There been a sharp increase in rhino poaching in KwaZulu-Natal and the provincial authorities are gearing up to fight back. A total of 172 rhinos have been poached in KZN this year so far while the total number in 2016 was 95.Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the KZN Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Department (Edtea) on Tuesday unveiled a range of new anti-rhino poaching strategies at the Spioenkop Nature Reserve. This follows suggestions that poachers have moved their operations from the Kruger National Park down to KZN.In an address to the media, Edtea MEC Sihle Zikalala said the province was “under siege from well organised and armed criminal syndicates intent on mercilessly butchering” KZN’s rhinos.On Monday, two rhino poachers were shot and killed at Hluhluwe Game Reserve while a third escaped. Edtea spokesperson Bongani Mthembu said that rangers would be responding to poachers “appropriately”. Zikalala said rhino horns were in high demand in countries such as China and Vietnam and new methods to prevent rhino poaching were often met with cartels “devising new strategies” to ensure they escape with the prized rhino horn.Last year, the total number of rhinos poached in KZN was 95, with 85 of the rhinos poached being white rhinos and 10 being black rhinos. This year, however, 172 rhinos have been poached to date with 158 white rhino carcassess and 14 black rhino carcasses.“We can reveal that our research into rhino poaching trends has shown that KZN poaching syndicates mostly come from Mpumalanga and the Gauteng areas,” said Zikalala.He said that Edtea along with Ezemvelo, the police and local communities surrounding game reserves had forged partnerships in an attempt to put an end to the rhino onslaught. Zikalala added that the improved anti-rhino poaching strategies included Ezemvelo strengthening its manpower by adding more security and field rangers. He said 412 “environmental monitors” had also been appointed, who would educate the local communities on the importance of rhinos.The new strategy includes “integrity testing” of staff that deal with anti-rhino poaching teams. Two staff members have already been dismissed on the basis of the tests.Ezemvelo is also testing a night-rated helicopter which will improve response times to poaching incidents and help identify poaching scenes.Zikalala said that they were also establishing a specialised court that will deal specifically with rhino poachers.An Ezemvelo officer at the rhino capture said the special court was an important step.