Zimbabwe could face a future without any more rhino, if urgent measures to tackle poaching are not implemented.
This was the warning of a leading conservationist on Friday, who was reacting to news that four white rhino had been killed by suspected poachers on New Years Day this week.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told SW Radio Africa on Friday that the poaching situation is "disgusting," and one that is likely to get worse.
"Our (poaching) figures aren't at the stage where anyone is actively trying to protect the animals. And the syndicates are in high gear," Rodrigues warned.
The four white rhinos that were killed this week were found at Thetford Estate in Mazowe on News Years Day. Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Public Relations Manager, Caroline Washaya-Moyo, said the animals included two adult males, one adult female and one sub-adult male, valued at US$480,000.
Washaya-Moyo added that a total of eight rhino horns were recovered at the scene and 18 spent cartridges, which had been fired from a suspected 308 hunting rifle or an FN automatic rifle.
In 2012 the country lost 19 black and white rhinos to poachers. Neighbouring South Africa lost an unprecedented 633 rhino in the same year. Rodrigues said that while Zimbabwe's rhino poaching statistics are not yet as bad as South Africa's, it is still a serious problem.
"South Africa's poaching statistics are high but if you look at it, we don't even have that many rhino left in Zimbabwe. If we don't put the measures in place now, the animals will be extinct in the next couple years," Rodrigues said.
Meanwhile there is mounting speculation that there is more than meets the eye in the suspected 'poaching' of the rhino on Thetford Estate, which belongs to controversial businessman and known ZANU PF crony John Bredenkamp.
Thetford Estate, a 1 300-hectare holding in the Mazowe Valley, is a registered conservancy, breeding a variety of wildlife species. Bredenkamp bought the estate from the Gulliver family in 1999 after obtaining a certificate of 'no interest' from the then ZANU PF government. In September 2000 the farm received a Section 5 order for acquisition, which was then withdrawn in October that year.
In March 2002 the farm was listed again and war vets reportedly disrupted operations, in what was widely believed to be a deliberate attempt to 'punish' Bredenkamp for 'funding' Emmerson Mnangagwa's succession campaign.