An early morning drive at Lalibela Game Reserve turned to a horror show for a group of tourists and their guide when they came across three rhinos lying dead and a fourth “kicking and frothing from the nasal cavity” as it clung to life – a mere 500m from the busy N2.
There was initial suspicion that a nearby watering hole may have been poisoned, however later yesterday it was confirmed the animals had in fact been darted.
A team of at least 20 police, Green Scorpions and conservationists yesterday took blood from the dead rhino and water samples from eight nearby dams on the 7500 hectare reserve to determine if the watering holes had been poisoned, which could have posed a risk to the other Big Five game on the property.
Devastated Lalibela head ranger Kelly Pote said the way the rhinos were found lying side by side in the bush was very strange.
Pote described a heart-wrenching phone call to majority shareholder Rick van Zyl and Eastern Cape Nature Conservation to get consent to put the suffering eight-year- old female out of her misery. “It was very upsetting for the whole team of rangers.”
Although 388 rhinos have been poached in South Africa this year the Eastern Cape has up until now got off relatively lightly – with only three other rhinos poached in one incident at nearby Kariega Game Reserve several months ago.
The latest incident brings the number of rhino poached in the Eastern Cape this year to seven – with just one rhino, Thandi, surviving the ordeal.
Lalibela marketing manager Susan Pattison-Wait said poachers braved lions and other wild animals to get to the rhino.
Reserve shareholder Vernon Wait said the lure of money had led to sophisticated poaching syndicates taking amazing risks to get their hands on rhino horns, which sold for huge prices on the black market in the Far East. He said senior provincial police had vowed to allocate massive resources and staff to try and solve the case.
Sunshine Coast rhino campaigner Jo Wilmot, who raised thousands of rands at World Rhino Day over the weekend to fight poaching, said she was shocked when she heard the news.
The poachers are believed to have accessed the property from the nearby N2 during the night and speculation is they used sophisticated night vision equipment to prevent detection as they worked under the cloak of darkness. — firstname.lastname@example.org
From Kariega Game Reserve Face Book
During the course of the day, the professionals who conducted the investigation managed to piece together what occurred at Lalibela Game Reserve last night.
Poachers entered Lalibela, probably in the early hours of the morning, and darted and tranquilized the 4 rhino. The rhino grouped together in a typically protective formation and collapsed under the effects of the tranquilizer.
Most likely, whilst still alive, they were all de-horned by the poachers using saws. 3 of the 4 rhinos were dead when they were discovered at 08:30 this morning. The 4th, a pregnant cow, was still alive but barely so.
We communicated this to the Dept. of Environmental Affairs and were given the go-ahead to euthanize the cow. Our head ranger, Kelly Pote, was given the unpleasant task of putting the cow out of her painful misery. The loss of these 4 rhinos is a devastating blow for rhino conservation.Those are the facts but they do not, in any way, express the absolute sense of loss, devastation and outrage felt by the staff at Lalibela, by our past guests, by our friends and colleagues in the conservation industry, and by the public at large.
We are so grateful for the deluge of messages of support received during the day from all over the world. We are mindful that the loss of 4 of our rhino today constitutes only 1% of the total number of rhino poached in South Africa this year.As custodians of these creatures, we appeal to you to tell whoever you can about the plight of the rhino and to do whatever you can to stop the carnage.
We apologise if this photograph offends you – but this is the reality of what occured.