Baby rhinos poached at sanctuary – a multimedia aftermath
Videos and photos tell the story of what happened. Will government fight back?
6 hours ago
MBOMBELA – One of the most carefully planned and brutally executed poaching incidents in South Africa’s history has shaken the country to its core. On Monday night five armed men not only killed two rhino calves at Thula Thula care centre in KwaZulu-Natal, but also assaulted and sexually violated Swedish volunteers.
Activists have called it a turning point in the war on poaching.
“Will the government finally take action?” is the question.
“Will they finally take a stand against these heinous crimes?” asked Ms Karen Trendler, who runs Findimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage.
The sanctuary is a safe haven for orphaned baby rhinos whose parents have been poached. It borders the Thula Thula game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.
Here, Trendler vowed to keep the rhinos safe from harm.
Trendler and Col Cobus Barnard from the police’s Rhino Ops 7 spoke about Monday night’s attack.
“Three volunteers were working their caretaking shift when five men gained access to sanctuary,” said Barnard.
It is not clear how they did this, but he confirmed that a security guard was robbed of his pistol as they approached their targets – two rhino calves with horns which had not yet grown 20 centimetres in length.
“The gang then poached and killed Gugu and slaughtered Impi. They inflicted deep, gashing wounds to the animals’ faces. Impi was badly injured and suffered pain until he was euthanised,” said Trendler.
One female volunteer was sexually violated. She and two others were also assaulted.
“This endured for between an hour and an hour and a half,” said Barnard.
“We beefed up security after it happened,” Trendler said.
Would dehorning the baby rhinos have prevented the tragedy? Did insiders organise the poaching?
What struck Trendler was the fact that rhino orphans, Gugu and Impi, were scheduled to be relocated to the wild within a week.
“This was a well-organised criminal operation, presumably done by outsiders who had insider information,” she said.
The sanctuary’s security was beefed up after Monday’s incident.
Police arrested two suspects in connection with the crimes on Tuesday. At the time of going to press the two suspects had not yet appeared in court.
This has never happened before.
According to Trendler, civilians have never before been injured in poaching incidents at sanctuaries.
A volunteer and a rhino at the centre. Volunteers also fell victim to Monday’s attack. (Photo: Facebook)
“Poachers used to take the horns, but leave the people out of it if they stayed out of the way,” she said. Yet Thula Thula’s caretakers were targeted. “Our security was clearly not adequate. We’ll have to change our approach,” she said.
“Will the government finally stop fiddling and playing politics while our species are becoming extinct?” asked SANWild founder, Ms Louise Joubert.
Ms Louise Joubert.
She called the incident a turning point in the war on poaching.
Only three poaching incidents have ever been reported at sanctuaries. According to Joubert, this incindent “proved how violent and savage rhino killings have become”.
She claimed that the government is not doing enough to curb the poaching pandemic. “When it comes to rhino-horn trading, they seem neither here nor there.”
South Africa is a member of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora). The body governs international wildlife trade and banned international trade in 1977. In 2009 the government imposed a moratorium on domestic trade.
In May 2016 the ban was lifted in the Pretoria High Court. The Department of Environmental Affairs appealed the lifting of the ban and lost. The Constitutional Court will now adjudicate the matter. The moratorium remains in place until then.
Joubert finds it unacceptable that the government is not pulling out all the stops to eradicate the problem, especially since South Africa hosts the largest white rhino population in the world. “In 2010 when we hosted the World Cup, 56 instant-justice courts were established and run throughout the country to curb crime. We now face a severe crisis. Why are we not reacting with the same intensity?” she asked.
“If we could do it then, we must do it now. We need specialist courts with specialist prosecutors and judges,” she said.
In 2014, poachers targeted a Lowveld sanctuary
On August 7 that year Sabi was poached at Care For Wild Africa. Sabi was recovering at the centre after having survived his mother’s poaching. It was reported that the traumatised sub-adult rhino was found guarding her poached carcass in Sabi Sands.
The heartbreaking site of an orphaned rhino calf that wouldn’t leave its mother’s side. (Stock image.)
His stump and front legs were butchered from his carcass with a saw. “When that happened, we increased our security. You can never be too careful,” said the sanctuary’s Petronel Nieuwoudt, who extended her condolences to those affected by the incident at Thula Thula.
Read: Sabi’s alleged poachers arrested
Five men were arrested in connection with the poaching of Sabi. Messrs Thokozane Jabulane Ngwenya, Kenneth Alex Mthombothi, Promise Mandla Lamula, Mthobisi Lenox Ngwenyama and Russel Mokoena will appear in Skukuza Magistrate’s Court on May 16.
Joubert insists that expertise is needed in the war on poaching.
This is currently the status quo in the KNP and the broader Lowveld area. The military, the police, SANParks and environmental crime units secure and investigate scenes with the latest available technology.
The Director of Public Prosecutions has established a satellite office from which two specialist prosecutors tackle rhino-poaching cases in the Graskop, Skukuza, Lydenburg, Mhala, Nelspruit and Bushbuckridge courts.
“We need the highest level of expertise. People who can link poaching scenes and eliminate key role players,” said Joubert.
She suggests that no poaching suspect should be granted bail and that a minimum sentence of 25 years should apply to poaching. “I don’t care if it is unconstitutional. Rhino poachers do not adhere to the Constitution and, in doing so, curb the rest of our rights,” she said.
Unless otherwise indicated, videos and photos have been sourced from the Facebook pages of journalist Bonné de Bod and Thula Thula.
Visit Bonné de Bod’s Facebook page.
Visit Thula Thula’s Facebook page.http://lowvelder.co.za/376338/baby-rhin ... aftermath/