The animal nobody wants to keep

Matshidiso Madia Matshidiso Madia

“Helpless and angry.”

These are the words of Haartzhoogte’s resident professional hunter Jacques Spamer, who’s still reeling from the shock of finding 11 carcases on the game farm he’s been doing business with for the past eight years. Those carcases were found in the space of four weeks.

In South Africa anti-poaching groups, breeders and government are in a losing global battle against rhino poachers – the number of rhinoceroses killed by poachers has escalated from 13 in 2007, to 528 in the first eleven months of 2012.

For many rhino farmers like Spamer and Haartzhoogte owner Braam Van Greuning’s family, this attack signals an ending - an end to the relationship they had with all 29 rhino, an end to watching the calves fill up the reserve’s watering hole and wandering into the camp sites. It also signals the end to a much needed breeding programme that helped increase the numbers of a dying species.

Ruan Van Greuning who grew up at Haartzhoogte says, “It's empty here. Growing up here, I’m used to seeing them and now we must adjust to life without our rhino. My dad doesn’t want to deal with rhino anymore, it’s too painful.”

It was Spamer who noticed that something was amiss one Saturday morning in late October. “It was about 07:15. I was coming in to start my day and headed towards the camp. I saw blood on the road, followed it hoping it wasn’t an attack, but I was wrong. I found a dead rhino.” Panic set in after that discovery and attempts began to move the rest of the herd. It was during the long wait for a permit that ten other calves were gunned down with AK47 rifles. Their eyes were gouged out and horns hacked off with pangas.

The Van Greunings are reeling from their recent loss – nine of the animals are dead and they’ve had to give up rhino farming. But it’s the future of one of Africa’s big five, which remains bleak. No one is keen to insure the animal as it’s too big a risk. The financial costs of purchasing and taking care of rhinos, only to lose them to a massive global syndicate that eludes authorities, has left a sour taste in many farmers’ mouths.

Questions about what to what to about this scourge remain: Is it best to legalise the trade, give harsher sentences to those convicted of illegal rhino trade or should South Africa sign an agreement with the countries where rhino horns are shipped to?

Until someone comes up with a viable plan of action, South Africa and the rest of the continent will remain on a slippery slope towards a world with only the big four to show off.