A private game farm owner has called for the legalising of rhino horn sales in South Africa as the only way to curb the rampant rhino poaching taking place, after two of his rhino were killed.
Owner of the Lombardini Game Farm just outside of Jeffreys Bay, Johan Lottering, said the poachers had struck sometime between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, killing two of his rhino, including a pregnant cow, and wounding a third.
Lottering said they had managed to dart the third rhino, an eight-year-old female, and had done a preliminary investigation of her wounds.
"At this point in time it looks good, the veterinarian says that while the bullet is still inside her, it appears to be a flesh wound, without hitting any bones or organs," he said.
"She doesn't seem to be too affected by the wound, but is understandably skittish and doesn't want to let people get near her. We still need to do x-rays to determine exactly where the bullet is, to remove it," he said.
Lottering said they believed the cow had been shot from some distance with a medium-bore rifle cartridge, which is why the bullet did not penetrate as deep.
Legalising sale of rhino horn only way to protect the species
This is the second time that Lottering has lost rhino to poachers, with a cow and calf killed on his farm in April 2015.
"We have been constantly dehorning our rhino as a deterrent to poaching. The rhino cow killed in 2015 was dehorned and those taken this week we had dehorned about two years back," he said.
Despite this, Lottering said the poachers had hacked deep into the skulls of the rhino, to remove the little bit of horn that had regrown.
"The only way you are going to curb poaching is if you legalise the sale of rhino horn under a strict regulated environment. This will create incentives for rhino breeders and create a legitimate avenue for those who are after the product to secure it," he said.
Lottering said by legalising and regulating the trade of rhino horn, government would not only make the illegal trafficking of rhino horn less attractive, the proceeds from the sale of the horn could be used for further conservation of the species.
"As things stand now, the only way I can possibly protect my rhino is by putting a guard next to each of them every day, and that is simply not possible," he said.
Keeping rhino simply too risky
Lottering praised the police for their commitment and assistance, saying they had been at the farm all day on Wednesday, investigating the incident and were following up on a number of leads.
Under the current conditions he simply could no longer afford to keep rhino on his property and would be selling the remaining animals on his farm.
"It is a real tragedy, but the risk posed to my staff by keeping the rhino on my property is too high. Not from the animals themselves, but from poachers who would not hesitate to kill anyone who stands in their way."
Police spokesperson, Captain Gerda Swart, confirmed that a case of poaching was being investigated.
Rhino poaching in South Africa is a major concern as poachers believe that the horns have high-value medicinal properties.
About 529 rhino is reported to have been poached since January 2017.