Poachers have killed five rhinos in the Kruger National Park and North West’s Madikwe game reserve in the first two weeks of the year.
Last year the national loss of rhino to poachers, intent on moving horn to the lucrative Vietnamese and other Far Eastern markets, was in excess of 630 with Kruger the biggest loser of this Big Five species. The iconic game reserve saw 395 of its rhino population slaughtered.
It was not an auspicious start to 2013 for those tasked with protecting Kruger rhino with a pair of white rhino killed for their horn on New Year’s Day in the Houtboschrand area. This was followed by another killing in the Lower Sabie region of the park.
“Indications are the Houtboschrand rhino were killed on January 1 by a group of poachers who entered the park from Mozambique. They are still at large,” Kruger managing executive Abe Sibaya said.
The Lower Sabie incident saw rangers make contact with three poachers but only after another white rhino had been killed.
“Shots were fired but the three poachers managed to escape leaving behind a hunting rifle and a bag containing a set of rhino horns.
North West provincial environment affairs department said a second rhino carcass was found in the Madikwe game reserve on Monday. Its horns had not been removed and department spokesman Dumisa Seshabela said this was an indication the poachers had been disturbed before they could remove the animal’s horn.
The day before rangers found the dehorned carcass of a rhino bull in the same reserve.
Sibaya admitted it was not a good way to start the year but was confident measures put in place late last year would assist in cutting down on the number of rhino killed in Kruger. These include bringing in a retired Army two star general to head up anti-poaching operations as well as making increased use of aerial surveillance. A Denel Seeker UAV has been deployed in Kruger and it, alongside a Paramount Group donated Seabird Seeker, is at the forefront of the aerial surveillance effort in conjunction with the park’s own aircraft.