The Citizen

Eight rhinos poached over just one day last week

A pregnant rhino which was killed for its horn in the Northern Cape. Photo by Susan Scott of STROOP film.<!– –>

A pregnant rhino which was killed for its horn in the Northern Cape. Photo by Susan Scott of STROOP film.

Amid an ongoing massacre that we don’t even know the true numbers for, the countdown is on for the online auction of rhino horn.

Up to 40 rhinos are believed to have been killed for their horns between June 30 and this past Saturday in southern Africa.

One allegedly dehorned rhino was killed in the Tshwane-owned Rietvlei Nature Reserve during the week, while another was wounded, but managed to escape, bringing the number of dead rhinos there to three – animals that are supposed to be dehorned.

The number rises to 33 if one considers that two of the 31 rhinos were pregnant with viable foetuses, and the number is 40 if one includes seven rhino from Namibia that were apparently killed in the same time frame.

In the continued absence of figures from the department of environmental affairs (DEA) due to Minister Edna Molewa’s information “blackout”, the aforementioned numbers come from DEA-registered stakeholder group Save our Rhino senior administrator Loraine Liebenberg.

“I cannot give the source of my numbers in order to protect people, but I know eight rhino were poached over a 24-hour period from Friday to Saturday,” said Liebenberg.

It is understood one was from Rietvlei, four from Limpopo, and one from the North West province.

“We also don’t know all the cases, because of Molewa’s blackout. As to the cause of the spike, there is a pattern of increased poaching, which began with the minister’s notice of intent for the domestic trade in rhino horn, and since the publishing of the auction, poaching has gone sky high.

“It looks like a gearing up of the syndicates, forming new pathways, because why would syndicates be interested in auctions when they can get it for free?” Liebenberg argued.

According to Media24’s Elise Tempelhoff, 142 rhinos have been poached since the beginning of the year to date in KwaZulu-Natal as poachers widen their search.

STROOP film producer Bonne de Bod and rhino owner Pieter Els with a poached rhino in the Northern Cape. Photo by Susan Scott of STROOP film.

On Saturday, an impassioned note on Pilanesberg National Parks’ Facebook page referred to the North West poaching.

“You cannot rest, you cannot turn away and pretend not to notice that our wildlife, in particular our rhinos, are being decimated to the point of extinction! From all the sickening reports, particularly the past 2 weeks, we are sickened to the core,” the post stated.

“It does not matter whose rhino they are, or where they are dying. What matters is that ALL rhino are being targeted. And in all this heartbreak the North West lost another rhino yesterday morning. It was not Pilanesberg but a sister park. We are devastated and sickened at the brazenness of it! Another calf left to fend for itself. Another innocent victim left to face the stress of dealing with human greed and violence.”

The calf was rescued uninjured.

Outraged group the SA Citizens Against Poaching (Oscap) has slightly different numbers.

“Our rhino have been under huge pressure and the poaching figures since the 1st of July are horrific, sitting at 24. North West 1, Limpopo 4, Mpumalanga 3, Gauteng 1, KwaZulu-Natal 6, Northern Cape 9. Two of the cows poached in Limpopo were pregnant,” said Oscap’s Kim Da Ribeira.

“And still we have no official release of poaching statistics for 2017. The above total does not include poaching figures for the Kruger National Park.”

If you think there’s confusion, it’s because it’s a guessing game at this stage, with only a few brave enough to release numbers.

Bonné de Bod is the filmmaker of STROOP, based on the war on rhinos.

“We are used to at least four media press briefings a year where the department gives an update on the rhino-poaching situation and where, of course, the stats are released. We have had no press briefings so far this year and no stats have been released. This makes it very difficult to assess the current situation,” said De Bod.

“What we must remember is that rhino poachings published by private rhino owners and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife this year are much talked about because we see them on social media, but there are many poachings we don’t actually get to hear about.”

“Let’s go back three years ago when there were 1 215 rhinos poached in one year according to official statistics. If we look at weekly averages, we’re looking at just over 23 rhino poachings every week. So yes, we must get upset when we hear that there might be an upsurge in one week, but the steady killings of rhinos week in and week out have been happening for years and are continuing to happen.  That is what is worrying me, the steady slaughter,” De Bod said.

She noted that at the autopsy of Rietvlei’s last poaching incident in 2016, there seemed to be a lot of conflict within the reserve, with what seemed like a severe lack of security for the animals.

“I know there are many at Rietvlei who are working within a crippled system and are devastated with what happened, but if we cannot keep rhinos safe in our nation’s capital then where in South Africa can we keep them safe?” asked De Bod.

Meanwhile, the countdown timer on the rhino horn online auction website ticks the seconds inexorably off to its kickoff in 43 days.

The website states that rhino breeder John Hume – and others like him – used to be able to breed and protect the animals, but the security costs for his 1 500 live rhino and his six-ton stockpile of “blood free” horn “has become difficult … The money will help him breed and protect his rhino, covering costs, such as an onsite vet, patrol vehicles, security, salaries and supplementary food for his rhinos.”

A bullet is recovered from the rhino poached in Rietvlei, Tshwane, in 2016, by Susan Scott of STROOP film

The DEA has yet to complete its audit of privately held stocks or its planned legislative changes around the possession and ownership of rhino horn, and also did not respond to requests for information.

On its website it states exports may happen if the paperwork is in order and if it is for “personal use”.

“If that auction is legal, at some stage what background checks will be done on permit applicants?” Liebenberg asked.

“Will they be checked for previous infringement of regulations or criminal records? What verification of citizenship will be done given the number of false identity books floating around? And what does ‘personal use’ mean?” asked Liebenberg.

De Bod said she had spent time this past week with a private rhino owner who lost nine rhinos to poaching in the Northern Cape.

“We landed in the middle of his farm and, as we walked from one carcass to the other, he told me that he was selling his remaining living rhinos and that he has now ‘given up on rhinos’. It is incredibly sad considering he started out with six rhinos more than 12 years ago, and had bred them up to quite a number. It was just devastating to see these magnificent creatures lying there rotting in the sun.”

On Friday night, police members charged with combating the poaching of rhinos spotted a white Toyota double cab in the Mgwanwini area in Hluhluwe, Kwazulu-Natal.

“The police stopped and searched it and they found a high-calibre hunting rifle, a silencer, ammunition and an axe.  The 44-year-old driver and his two passengers, 24 and 28 years of age, were arrested,” said police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Katlego Mogale.

“All three suspects will appear in the Hluhluwe Magistrate’s Court on Monday on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.”