Rhino poaching – The horror continues

Rhinos are a symbol of Africa’s unique natural heritage. We are constantly reminded by the statistics of the levels of rhino poaching in Southern Africa, however, it is only when one gets to read or see the details of these savage attacks that the reality of the horror becomes apparent. Despite the high level of organization in the illegal poaching industry, the methods used by poachers themselves are becoming increasingly barbaric. The following are two documented cases of rhino being poached where their horns were hacked off whilst alive then left to die.

Black rhino shot in SAVE Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe and left to die in April 2011.

In April this year, a severely wounded black rhino was spotted wandering in the SAVE Valley conservancy in the South Eastern Lowveld of Zimbabwe. On locating it, rangers were met with a devastating sight, the rhino was alive despite being shot a number of times and his face horribly disfigured from where his horns had been callously hacked off. The poachers had left him to die, but he regained consciousness and one can only imagine the extreme agony and distress he must have experienced. Vets were called in and did their best to give Maduma, as he was called, a fighting chance at survival as he was still eating, despite having a broken jaw from the attack. He responded well to treatment over the next few weeks, however, it was with great sadness that the decision was taken to euthanize him in early May as his shattered right shoulder was no longer able to support him. What is even more disturbing about this poaching incident is the fact that Maduma had been dehorned last year in an attempt to protect him from poachers, however, this did not deter them and they hacked off his remaining stumps of horn.

In neighbouring South Africa, a similar incident was reported in February this year. Geza, meaning ‘the naughty one’ was a white rhino born in an Eastern Cape private reserve in January 2006. Bred by wildlife vet Dr William Fowlds, he said that Geza got his name from his boisterous playful nature. From an early age he would challenge older rhinos before running back to the safety of his mother and in a group he would be the instigator, always being the one to be noticed.

Geza, 5 year old white rhino with horns hacked off and left to die in the Eastern Cape, South Africa in February 2011

In February this year another poaching tragedy unfolded when a ranger on patrol came across a severely injured rhino with him horns missing and part of his face hacked off. Dr Fowlds described the emotions of seeing Geza in this state “At the time I did not know it was Geza. When I first saw him, having seen dead rhino with their horns cut off, and being shocked by that, it was a very numbing sensation. Initially; I couldn’t quite believe what I was looking at and the amount of pain he must have been in… I don’t think we can comprehend what he went through”. Once again, another documented case of a rhino being butchered whilst still alive. As a result of his horrific injuries, the decision was made to euthanize Geza. One can only imagine Dr. Fowlds personal heartache, seeing such a magnificent creature, brutalized in such a barbaric and inhumane way, the extreme suffering Geza must have endured with his life tragically cut short at the age of five years.

There are many organisations tackling the issue from all angles to stem the tide of poaching, but as long as the demand in Asia is sustained there will be a strong market for rhino horn. The debates are heated and in many cases contentious in terms of which methods are best for long term survival of this nearly extinct species. To save our rhino from extinction, multiple strategies need to be sustained and increased. Anti poaching efforts have to continue at a high level, laws to prosecute perpetrators should be aggressively enforced together with substantial educational campaigns that clearly give the message that rhino horn has no medicinal value.

Environment Africa’s approach for sustainability is to work on the ground together with communities. The formation and training of WEPU’s (Wildlife & Environment Protection Units) drawn from local communities has already shown positive results with the decline of poaching within those areas. Before wildlife can be introduced back into areas, strong anti poaching teams need to be in place to protect them. CEO, Charlene Hewat’s vision for bringing wildlife and ultimately black rhino back into the Zambezi Valley, encompasses the need for individuals, organisations, private sector and communities to work together for a common cause. The formation of the Green Zambezi Alliance is a result of this vision.

Statistics
Zimbabwe has the fourth largest population of black rhinos in the world.
According to figures recently released by the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Zimbabwe has a national total of approximately 430 black rhinos and 290 white rhinos. 
In the late 1980’s the black rhino population numbered around 1500. Poaching of rhino in Zimbabwe has been on the increase since 2007 with around 300 rhinos having being poached.
South Africa, the levels of poaching equate to one rhino being killed every day. 2010 saw recorded figures of 333 poached rhino. Conservationists predict that at our current levels, this number could double in 2011.
The black rhino is classified as Critically Endangered, with a worldwide population of only 4,240.

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