Rhino crisis in heritage park

2011-05-04 00:00

RHINO poaching at the eMakhosini-Opathe Heritage Park near Ulundi is wiping out the rhino population there, with only eight rhino remaining in that area.

The Emakhosini and Opathe are two large parks located close to uMgungundlovu, the homestead of Zulu King Dingaan, an area promoted as a tourist destination.

Sources from the area who asked not to be named said the rhino population had declined from 40 to just eight since 2009, with 32 having been killed.

However, according to the official figures released by KZN Ezemvelo wildlife, the eMakhosini — Opathe Heritage Park has lost 23 rhinos since 2009. They lost 14 in 2009, eight in 2010 and one in 2011.

Last year 365 rhinos were killed nationally, the equivalent of a rhino a day. This year 11 rhinos have been killed in KwaZulu-Natal alone.

The sources in eMakhosini-Opathe Heritage Park who are concerned about the poaching said the Opathe section of the Heritage Park was built with international financial assistance as the last sanctuary for the threatened black and white rhino population.

“The Opathe game reserve was built with international funding as the last sanctuary for the threatened black and white rhino population, so this is not only failing the environment, we are also failing in our obligations to our donors.”

They said the poaching not only destroys the environment but also threatens the chances of the park being a tourist destination.

“This [heritage park] has a huge potential to be a tourist destination and to create employment for a number of community members but this is threatening all of that.”

Another source said the poaching in that area has the hallmarks of professionals. “There are three types of people who do this, the first are the professional white hunters, the second are just regular people who are offered money and the gun to go and shoot rhinos.

“The third kind of poachers are professionals and we believe some might be staff members of Ezemvelo because of the way they kill the animals.

“This group does not shoot them, instead, they dart them. While the animal is down they de-horn it and leave it there to die as opposed to waking it up after they are finished.”

Another source, who also fingered some Ezemvelo staff members as being among the poachers, said: “This is a very bad situation, and from the information that has been provided we believe that the staff is involved.”

Maureen Zimu of KZN Ezemvelo said that some of their staff members had been involved in poaching and those staff members had been dealt with.

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