Poachers mercilessly slaughtered four rhinos including a pregnant female at a private game reserve and wounded a fifth with a shot to the head – just to saw off their horns for cash.
The gang used high powered rifles fitted with silencers to butcher the herd and even sawed off a prosthetic fibreglass horn which had been fitted to one rhino in a vain bid to protect it.
The poaching was carried out at the Inverdoorn Game Reserve near Ceres in the Klein Karoo a two-and-a-half drive from Cape Town.
The anti-poaching patrol were on a routine sweep of the 10,000-hectare reserve which is home to the Big Five of elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard on Wednesday night.
At 10.30pm they came across the bodies of two rhinos which had been shot several times and then found two other wounded close by, including a pregnant female.
A fifth member of the herd was missing but was tracked and found several hours later still alive but severely injured having suffered gunshot wounds to the head.
The anti-poaching team called out veterinary experts to the three severely injured rhinos but two could not be saved and quickly died from high calibre bullet wounds.
The fifth rhino which suffered a severe gunshot wound has made it through two nights and is being monitored by vets and rangers waiting for the right time to dart it and treat its bullet injuries.
The gang sawed off at least the three biggest front horns and on the black market the haul could be worth over £350,000 but the poachers will get a pittance from the king pins.
In 2011 Mr Derman, owner of the neighbouring Aquila Game Reserve, lost two of his rhinos to poachers when they were hacked to death with machetes and dehorned.
Mr Derman said: ‘I’m horrified to now be reliving the nightmare of Aquila at Inverdoorn and I am offering R100,000 (£5000) for information that leads us to the poachers.
‘This comes when the SA wildlife tourism industry is being decimated by a continued and unjustified international travel ban which brings in revenue to protect wildlife.
‘As in the previous poaching incident at Aquila we will spare no expense or effort in the pursuit to catch and bring to justice the vicious perpetrators who massacred our rhinos.
Inverdoorn had begun a ground breaking technique of dehorning some of their rhino and replacing them with synthetic ones and publicised it with signs around the reserve.
Mr Derman said:’We hoped it would deter poachers but it did not. One had a realistic fibreglass horn of zero value to the poachers but they still killed it and took it’.
Spokesman for the Aquila Collection which covers both reserves Johan van Schalwyk said:’This nightmare comes at a terrible time for the private game reserve industry.
‘This is our festive season and what should be our busiest time but the tourism industry and the private game reserves of South Africa are being throttled by world travel bans.
‘The tourism industry is being obliterated and many private game reserves have gone insolvent or have been forced to cull their wild animals and reduce staff to survive’.
A rhino horn can sell for up to as much as £75,000 a kilo in countries like China and Vietnam. Poachers will even kill a mother rhino in front of her calves to take her horns and in many cases orphans have been found trying to still nurse from their limp bodies.
Four large seizures of smuggled rhino horns have been made in the last four years at the Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg worth £12m on the black market.
South Africa is home to 80 per cent of the world’s rhino population and despite only 200 white rhinos being left in 1970 intense conservation efforts have brought them up to 18,000.
But due to poaching they are still endangered though numbers have dropped from 769 poached in 2018 to 594 to in 2019 and a big drop to 394 in the 2020 official figures.
However the drop has not just been down to successful anti-poaching but to a switch from smuggling horns to tobacco and alcohol during the lockdown period.
A spokesman at the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries said strict night time curfews made it impossible for poachers to move about which saved many.
In September on World Rhino Day 2500 rhino horns, with a black market value of £60million, were burned on a pyre in India to send an anti-poaching message to the world.
Rhino horn is made of keratin which is basically a protein found in human finger nails which many in the Far East wrongly believe can cure hangovers, impotence and cancer.
Aquilla Collection’s group manager Johan van Schalwyk added: ‘I cannot believe people can believe such stupid things in this day and age.
‘We lost three male rhinos and a pregnant female in this barbaric attack and we have a badly wounded female still in the wild who is very stressed but in stable condition.
‘Our veterinary team is monitoring her and letting her de-destress and eat and get some water and settle down before we move in to dart her and treat her for bullet wounds.
‘We are not releasing any information as to the size of the gang we are tracking but believe from the shell that the weapon used was a 416 silenced assault rifle.
‘For obvious reasons we do not reveal how many rhinos we have at our reserves but we have a healthy number but when something like this happens it is just devastating to all.
‘The people who work with our animals do not do it 9-5 and go home, it is 24/7, passion and a lifestyle and it has hit them to the core and they have to deal with the aftermath.
‘But we will pick ourselves up, carry on, and get the evil people who did this.’
This article by James Pyatt was first published by The Daily Mail on 10 December 2021. Lead Image: Poachers mercilessly slaughtered four rhinos including a pregnant female at a private game reserve and wounded a fifth with a shot to the head – just to saw off their horns for cash.
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