Threat of extinction

2018-09-25 10:40
A dehorned white rhino shortly before being darted at Somkhanda Game Reserve in Zululand.

A dehorned white rhino shortly before being darted at Somkhanda Game Reserve in Zululand. (Ian Carbutt)

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A 20-year-old white rhino was killed and dehorned by poachers while her six-year-old calf, who had been shot in the shoulder, escaped certain death at a KwaZulu-Natal reserve on September 6.

Conservationists and staff of the park, who had spotted the injured calf, captured her last week to treat the bullet wound to her shoulder.

Wildlife vet Dr Dave Cooper said they released the rhino back into the reserve to see how she would respond to treatment in the wild, however, Cooper noticed that the rhino “was battling”. So, a decision was taken to move her to a boma with other orphaned rhinos.

Cooper said the recovery process would take months, adding that white rhino do not do well if they are on their own in a boma.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo said that in 2016, 148 rhinos had been poached in the province. In 2017, this number increased dramatically to 202.

This year, to date, 90 rhinos have been killed, suggesting that there has been a decline in poaching.

However, Cooper said fewer rhino were being shot because there are less rhino in the province than there were a few years ago. “Poachers now have to look for the rhino and will sometimes have to walk very far and deep into bush before they see one.

“This means there is a greater chance of them being caught.”

Cooper added that the number of arrests of poachers had also increased but he was uncertain how many of those arrests were actual convictions.

“The amount of convictions is a true reflection of the situation,” said Cooper.

He added that rhino cows birthed calves every three years, meaning the rate at which rhino are being poached is greater than the number of rhino being born. 

Cooper said law enforcement has definitely become more effective, which has contributed to the increased arrest rate.

According to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC), more than 7 000 African rhinos have been lost to poaching in the last decade.

HESC said 1 175 rhinos were killed nationally in 2015.

“Despite a 10,3% decrease in rhino poaching in 2016, poaching statistics released by the Department of Environmental Affairs in February 2017 show that  the rhino population of South Africa remains at risk of extinction unless more is done to stop poachers in their tracks.”

On Thursday, police released a statement welcoming the arrest of seven alleged rhino poaching kingpins by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) in Mpumalanga.

With World Rhino Day being today, the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA) said their concerns over rhino poaching also extended to the communities and people affected by it.

“Illegal wildlife trade not only harms rhino, it also impacts on people living around the parks,” said a statement by the WWF-SA. “Our protected areas are often situated in the midst of poor communities. Criminal syndicates who drive the illicit horn trade become connected to these vulnerable communities where poaching can be seen as a solution to economic hardship.”

WWF South Africa Wildlife Programme senior manager Dr Jo Shaw said SA’s rhinos remain the focus of international wildlife trafficking networks. She said it was vital that police work together with communities to disrupt these networks so thorough investigations can lead to successful prosecutions.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  rhino poaching

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