Riding out to save the rhino

2018-05-23 16:00
Piles of rhino skulls at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve.

Piles of rhino skulls at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. (Ian Carbutt)

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The Project Rhino Association has revived a horse unit in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve to snare poachers and counter the slaughtering of rhinos.

The Ezemvelo anti-poaching horse unit was revived last year with the assistance of Californian artist Karrie Hovey, when she was on a rhino art tour in Mtubatuba in 2015. Hovey raised funds through her art sales and donated them to non-governmental organisation 12 Hours which, together with Project Rhino, facilitated the revival of the unit.

Global conservation has also donated money to sustain the horse unit.

Project Rhino partner Grant Fowlds said the unit currently has seven horses being used for patrols.

“Most of the Ezemvelo horse sections closed down due to various reasons. One was that they were not cost effective, they were getting old and that there was no budget,” said Fowlds.

He said the existing horse unit soldiered on despite it being an outpost stable. “It is a functional unit which is run very effectively. We are hoping that this will be a catalyst to bring in the other three horse units which are sitting dormant because of various reasons.

“We have been able to reduce poaching with the presence of these horses.”

Section ranger and head of the horse unit Sibonelo Zulu said their section was about 16 000 hectares.

“I have 18 fit rangers but I’ve got only five guys who I have nominated to be horse riders in this camp because it is a big section compared to the other parts of Hluhluwe.

“We have big areas that we need to cover and without horses we can’t do it. It is much easier to do patrols on horses,” he added.

Head of the anti-poaching horse unit Sibonelo Zulu (centre) with his team (from left) Senzile Shozi, Phelelani Ntombela, Bonginkosi Langa and Philile Ngcamu.

Zulu said rangers do patrols every day.

“In my section I have only lost two rhinos since the unit was re-established. We are now covering a wider area because of the horses. Although it’s very dangerous for us, it is proving to be very effective.”

He said the “danger” he was referring to was the possibility of encountering dangerous wildlife while on horseback, such as lions. Zulu said the plan was to revive more horse stables so the unit can be expanded within the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve.

“We are fixing the stables and trying to get sponsorship. We want to lose less rhino this year compared to 2017.”

He believes the horses can be a good tool against poachers because they are fast-moving and can step quietly through the bush. The area near the fence is dominated by mopani/bushwillow veld. “One can cover a larger distance than on foot and get much closer to wildlife for monitoring purposes. Horses have excellent senses and they are very alert,” said Zulu.

Rhino poaching has reached epidemic proportions with around 1 200 rhino being killed in 2014 and 2015 in South Africa alone. KwaZulu-Natal lost over 200 rhinos in 2017, compared to 162 in 2016.

Philile Ngcamu is all smiles with her horse Nkalakatha at Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  rhino poaching

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