SOUTH Africa lost another rhino on Thursday. Spencer, a bull from the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve just outside Krugersdorp in Gauteng, died after veterinarians performed a procedure aimed at protecting it from poaching.
South Africa lost 448 rhinos to poaching last year, up 34% from the 333 animals lost in 2010, and there is concern that the country could suffer a species decline by mid-year.
Between 17 and 30 rhinos have been killed for their horns this year, with South African National Parks spokesman Rey Thakuli saying on Thursday that he knew of 17 and was waiting for new statistics that he expected by the end of the week.
On Thursday, rhino park spokeswoman Susan Walley said: “This rhino died because of poaching. That is the bottom line.”
An autopsy will be performed on the rhino bull, estimated to have been about 20 years old, to determine the cause of death, said private wildlife veterinarian Charles van Niekerk. It is possible the animal had a heart problem.
The rhino was sedated and then injected with oxpecker- and vulture-friendly ectoparasiticides. These are antiparasitic drugs that are not harmful to animals or humans unless ingested in large quantities. Microchips were also inserted into both the rhino’s horns, as was a pink dye that is used in the banking sector.
These steps were meant to make the horn less attractive to the illegal rhino-horn market that is escalating to meet demand in Asia.
Reuters, the news agency, reported earlier this month that the street value of rhino horn had soared to about $65000 a kilogram, making it more expensive than gold and platinum, as a belief — with no basis in science — has taken hold in recent years in parts of Asia that eating it can cure or prevent cancer.
Dr van Niekerk said Thursday’s treatment, during which DNA samples were also taken to be added to a growing national database, formed part of research into anti-poaching measures. Vets had not wanted to start the programme until more research was done, but following the recent escalation in poaching, it was decided to get going as soon as possible.
The microchip had a 30km “line of sight” range in open areas, but probably only 3km in dense bush or built-up areas, he said. Soon rhino owners will be able to use the same technology that is employed in vehicle tracking.
Dr van Niekerk said about 10 rhinos had already been treated via the research programme, and it would continue. “If we stop now, the poachers have won,” he said.
To treat one rhino in this way costs about R15000, although the process becomes cheaper when more animals are treated simultaneously.
World Wide Fund for Nature rhino specialist Joseph Okori said the nongovernmental organisation attended the procedure because it was open to all ways of saving South Africa’s rhinos. The country is home to almost 90% of the world’s estimated 22800 rhinos.
Article courtesy of: http://www.businessday.co.za/Articles/Content.aspx?id=164612 SUE BLAINES