Turning tables on poisoning poachers

25 October 2013 - 02:28 By SCHALK MOUTON

Two can play the poisoning game - poachers poison animals to get their hands on horn or ivory but now poisons are being used in the fight back by conservationists.

On the Plumari Game Reserve, in the Magaliesberg, 45 minutes northwest of Johannesburg, the six surviving rhino were yesterday darted with a sedative and their horns infused with poison.

One of the biggest markets for rhino horn is Southeast Asia, where it commands an extremely high price as a traditional medicine. If potential buyers have reason to suspect that their medicine has been poisoned, they will probably resort to another elixir.

Lorinda Hern, co-founder of the Rhino Rescue Project, said more than 200 rhino horns had been poisoned in this way in South Africa.

"If someone were to inhale too many of these compounds [injected into the horn], ingest them or handle large quantities of horn, they would start to [experience] nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and perhaps nerve damage," she said.

If a large amount of horn were consumed it could prove lethal.

The latest victim of poaching at Plumari is a 15-year-old rhino cow whose 12-month foetus is rotting inside her. The stench of her decomposing flesh hits the back of the throat long before her body is seen.

Her snout was hacked off along with her horn. Even her eyes were cut out and her ears and tail sliced off - for muti.

She was killed by poachers on Sunday, the second to be butchered on the reserve in eight weeks.

The other rhino, an 18-year-old cow, also pregnant, lies nearby.

Steve Dell, field ecologist at the Pilanesberg National Park, near Sun City, in North West, said smaller parks with rhino are quickly disappearing. North West Parks once ran seven parks on which rhino roamed, but poaching has reduced this number to four.

In one park, only 25 rhino of an original 70 have survived. They have been moved to a safer location.

In Pilanesberg, 31 rhino have been killed since 2010.