Our Burning Planet

WILDLIFE UNDER THREAT

‘People need to get angry’ — poachers butcher three rhinos at Eastern Cape game reserve

‘People need to get angry’ — poachers butcher three rhinos at Eastern Cape game reserve
A rhinoceros and her calf at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: David Silverman / Getty Images)

‘With an escalating sense of foreboding we set off to account for our rhino. Shortly thereafter our worst fears were confirmed with the gruesome discovery of three carcasses.’

The bodies of a female rhino and her two heifers were found in Lalibela Game Reserve in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape at the weekend. They had been killed by poachers for their horns.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Saving private rhino — non-government owners of the animals succeed in stemming poaching carnage

Lalibela Game Reserve general manager Rob Gradwell said a routine fence check picked up what was obviously an incursion into the game reserve.

“This was our first in over 2,300 days of monitoring. With an escalating sense of foreboding we set off to account for our rhino. Shortly thereafter our worst fears were confirmed with the gruesome discovery of three carcasses.”

He said they were brutally killed, with their faces senselessly hacked off.

“ ‘75’, as she was affectionately known, was a poster child for our conservation successes. She was the first of a recently translocated crash of rhino to give birth on Lalibela. Her young heifer calf, which along with her older heifer sibling were the future matriarchs of multiple offspring, born into an organisation determined to retard and reverse the degradations of poaching,” said Gradwell. 

“This magnificent animal with her two daughters, butchered, for what? A lump of matted hair essentially of no practical use to anyone but the rhino itself. A mythical lump of keratin much prized in the East, medicinally inert but with the power to corrupt beyond any other commodity on Earth.

“A commodity both priceless and useless at the same time. Outrage and a terrible, heart-wrenching sadness that we as a species have stooped this low. Who does this? How do you reconcile the stupendous greed and inhumanity that would bring us to this point?”

Gradwell said something had to change.

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“Couch sympathy is no longer a luxury we can afford. People need to get angry – angry people shape government thinking and only then can we get the kind of global focus we need to save this species.”

Gradwell said as Lalibela and other rhino custodians had spent themselves into the red in an attempt to save rhinos, but they couldn’t do it alone.

“Open debates about legal trade, open channels for demand reduction, open dialogue with recipient nations, bring pressure to bear from whatever sources we can. Regardless of which side of these contentious fences you currently sit on, believe me when I tell you that the most tangible truth in rhino conservation is that what we are currently doing is not working. Not at all.

“So throw aside your current moralistic prejudices and at least entertain the alternatives. If we do not, believe me when I tell you, rhinoceros in the wild will be extinct. This isn’t just someone else’s fight any more. This is your fight too.”

Evidence

He said they had gathered evidence from the scene of the rhino killings that may help put the shooters in jail.

“Then tomorrow we will get back in the trenches and do all we can to save the rest of our burgeoning little population. That’s tomorrow. Today I am just furious and deeply, deeply sad,” he said.

Ayesha Cantor from Kragga Kamma Game Park said: “There has been no poaching [in the Eastern Cape] for the past 4½ years and now there are 13 dead rhinos in the last 10 or so weeks.”

The latest rhino poaching data released last month showed that there was almost no change in the poaching numbers, with 448 rhinos slain in South Africa in 2022 for their horns to meet overwhelmingly Asian demand for the commodity, compared with 451 in 2021. The Eastern Cape recorded no deaths during the period in which the data were collected, while KwaZulu-Natal had 244 deaths. DM/OBP

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