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Susan Cilliers, Beeld
Johannesburg - Four rhino carcasses with sawn-off horns have been found in a Pilanesberg nature reserve in the North-West.
A fifth rhino was found still alive, but with its horns sawn off and with a gunshot wound in the back. It later died.
This comes just after several rhinos were marked to prevent poaching in Mafikeng in the North-West at the weekend.
The latest discovery brings the total number of rhinos poached in South Africa since January to 210, Louis Coetzee said on Sunday evening.
Coetzee is the manager of the Mafikeng game reserve, which belongs to the North-West's parks and tourism board.
$60 000 per kilogram
"That's already a significant increase from the 140 rhinos that were poached last year. Their horns are becoming increasingly sought-after, and can sell for up to $60 000 (about R429 000) per kilogram on the black market."
One rhino horn can weigh up to 8kg.
According to police spokesperson Adéle Myburgh, workers from the reserve in the Pilanesberg were counting rhinos when they spotted the carcasses at the weekend.
The animals had all been shot. According to Myburgh, the total value of the five rhinos was about R2.9m.
No suspects have been arrested, but police are investigating.
Coetzee said game poaching has been rearing its ugly head in the reserve since January.
"Two of our rhinos were tranquillised before the poachers cut off their horns, and four were killed. As a result, we've suffered a loss of about R1m.
He said the poachers, who often hail from Mozambique or Zimbabwe, mostly move around on foot and climb through or over fences.
In exceptional cases, poachers are dropped off by helicopter. They then tranquillise or kill the animals before cutting off their horns.
Once the poaching is done the helicopter picks them up again.
"The poachers even cover the helicopter's registration," said Coetzee.
Difficult to replace
Game poachers move mostly at night and use chainsaws or pangas to chop off the horns. They also don't hesitate to kill the calves who are with their mothers, said Coetzee.
Rhinos may be hunted within limits, if one has the relevant permit.
According to Coetzee, any kind of trade in rhino horn products is illegal.
It's difficult to replace a rhino. They live for 30 years on average, and a rhino cow can only give birth about once every three years.
"They only reach sexual maturity from age 7," said Coetzee.
An adult rhino bull can weigh up to 3 tons. Coetzee and other game rangers battled at the weekend to turn one such heavy bull onto its side (to be marked) once it was tranquillised.
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