Rhino run down in park

2009-10-01 00:00

A WHITE rhino was knocked down and killed by a bakkie and subsequently dehorned in a baffling hit-and-run accident in the Weenen Game Reserve on Tuesday night.

Wildlife investigators are looking into the unusual circumstances surrounding the death of the animal, and the subsequent removal and theft of its horns, which were discovered hidden in the bush some 100 metres from where the collision occurred.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Maureen Zimu confirmed the incident, but referred The Witness to top EKZNW official Bheki Khoza, who said he is awaiting a written report before commenting.

The Witness learned yesterday that the white rhino female — believed to have been pregnant — was struck by a white Toyota Hilux bakkie on the main road leading through Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Weenen Game Reserve shortly before 7 pm on Tuesday.

When police arrived at the scene some three hours later, in response to a report, they discovered the rhino carcass and the bakkie still at the scene.

There was no sign of the driver or any other occupants of the bakkie.

Stranger still was the fact that the dead rhino appeared to have lost its horns.

The horns had not been hacked off in the usual manner employed by poachers, but probably came loose as a result of the collision, after which it appears they were pulled off.

A member of the Pietermaritzburg Organised Crime Unit, Inspector Riaan van Rooyen — who is assigned to a task team investigating wildlife crime, including the recent rhino poaching epidemic in the province — said guards had been stationed at the site until daylight.

At first light, an extensive search of the area was made and the mis­sing horns were found concealed in a thorn tree in the bush.

The driver of the bakkie has since been traced by the police, but his name is being witheld pending further police investigations into the strange circumstances surrounding the incident.

A full forensic examination of the bakkie and the recovered rhino horns will be carried out.

Van Rooyen said the driver of the Hilux returned to the accident scene yesterday. He did not sustain any serious injuries as a result of the collision. The Hilux was badly damaged, however,

A veterinary surgeon yesterday carried out an autopsy on the rhino carcass to determine whether or not the animal had been shot, but reportedly found no evidence of gunshot injuries on the rhino.

According to evidence led earlier this month during a bail application by four alleged rhino poachers at Kwambonambi, rhino horn currently sells for between R35 000 and R45 000 per kilogram on the black market.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife investigator Rod Potter gave evidence of an alarming increase countrywide in rhino poaching in 2008 and 2009, which is likely to impact on tourism.

In KZN, private game reserves are showing reluctance to stock rhino because of the threat of poaching by syndicates.

Rhino horn is usually destined for the international market as there is a limited demand for it in SA traditional medicine.

It is especially popular as an ingredient in Chinese traditional medicine.

The four accused, who were arres­ted in possession of freshly hacked off rhino horns linked to a carcass in Umfolozi game reserve, were each gran­ted bail of R10 000.

* Police are also looking into the circumstances in which a white rhino died in Hluhluwe Game Reserve.

The animal’s skull was recovered last week with the horns missing. An extensive search of the area has failed to uncover the horns.

Although predators such as hyenas may have carried them away, experts say that they should have been found in the vicinity of the carcass. The rhino probably died at least a month before the skull was disco­vered.

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