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Rhino poaching rises sharply in South Africa, authorities say

Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 5:03 PM CST
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(CNN) – Rhino poaching has been on the rise in South Africa over the past couple of months. Anti-poaching patrols have been deployed as a result.

Authorities warn they desperately need tourist money back in order to equip themselves with the latest tech to catch the criminals.

Lufuno Netshitavhadulu, a wildlife veterinarian, uses powerful opiate darts to save the iconic giant during aerial operations. Even when it’s drugged, a rhino is 5,000 lbs. of raw power.

“Whenever they are down, we need to be very careful because we put them in the border of death and life, so we need to keep the balance and make sure they don’t go to the other side,” Netshitavhadulu said.

They then remove the rhino’s horn, which doesn’t hurt the animal, but may save its life. They have to do everything they can do to keep the rhino calm, not to make it that traumatizing.

Illegal poaching syndicates target rhinos for their horns, which they then sell for tens of thousands of dollars in Asia. If the vets take away the rhino’s horn, they take away the incentive to poach.

It’s an extraordinary step to change the way a species looks to save it from extinction.

“For me, it is terrible because it is not really a rhino at the end of the day,” Robert Thomson, a section ranger with Kruger National Park, said. “You are taking that piece off it that makes it prehistoric. For the species to survive, we have to do it at the moment.”

Their survival is far from assured. New figures show that in the past decade, Kruger National Park lost around 70% of its white rhino, mostly to poaching.

“What is the consequence if you get this wrong?” McKenzie said.

Cathay Dreyer, the head ranger at Kruger National Park, says her team is up against poaching for the sake of the national park.

“If we get this wrong, the consequence is no rhino in Kruger, which for us is really not an option,” she said. “We know we don’t have another ten years of looking after rhino if we don’t turn things around.”

COVID-19 drove away tourists, collapsing the park’s revenue stream. Forensic teams are underfunded, and they know that in many cases, a poached rhino represents a generational loss.

Orphaned baby rhinos, like Aquazi and Shelu, would have died alongside their mother if Petronel Nieuwoudt hadn’t stepped in to raise them by hand at the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary.

“Just look at them. Why do you not want to save them, they are here for 50 million years and they are now on our clock, and we can’t save them?” he said.

They teach even the youngest, like 2-month old Daisy, who was barely able to walk when she arrived. Daisy made an unusual friend, a zebra called Mudjadji.

The aim is to get all of these rhinos, even when they come to the sanctuary as young orphans, back into the wild.

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