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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News :Seven rhinos 'starve' to death in E-Cape

Seven rhinos 'starve' to death in E-Cape

  Mail & Guardian on-line
East London
12 September 2002 09:20

The Eastern Cape Tourism Board suffered a R3-million loss when seven of its white rhinoceros at the Tsolwana Game Reserve died recently. Some professional game hunters were quick to accuse the board of incompetence and said the death of the rhinos was due to starvation. But Shamwari Game Reserve veterinarian Dr Johan Joubert rejected the allegations and said the death of the rhinos could only be ascribed to the adverse weather conditions -- snow, frost and rain -- which had battered the region.

Joubert, who had been asked by the board to perform post mortems on two of the carcasses, said there had been ample food for the rhinos. However, the weather conditions resulted in the short, white grass on which white rhinos fed becoming indigestible.

This affected the animals' digestive canal. "They also suffered from pneumonia but that had been a secondary problem," said Joubert. He said this condition also resulted in a shortage of glucose in the animals' blood streams.

Joubert said the problems which led to the deaths happened over a short period of time.

The two dead animals were transported from Tarkastad to Shamwari.

"The game reserve management cannot be held responsible. This was an unfortunate chain of events. The stomachs and digestive canals were full of grass but the animals had been unable to digest it. Rhinos are very sensitive animals," he said.

According to Joubert, the reserve had also sent a dead gemsbok to him. "But this animal died as a result of an abscessed heart," he said. He said he often consults with the board's game reserves. Shamwari owner Adrian Gardener is also a board member. Joubert said there was a danger that, as a result of the continuing cold and adverse weather conditions, more animals could be in danger again.

He said he had made certain recommendations to the board. "We have advised them to lay out as much teff grass and Lucerne and sprinkle it with molasses, which gives extra energy.

"The problem is, however, that we do not know whether the rhinos would eat it."

The board's Wandile Mzazi said Joubert's recommendations had already been implemented. Mzazi said he had been shocked to learn of the animals' deaths.

Others in the game hunting industry, who all asked to remain anonymous, still blame the board. Despite the severe winter they said the loss of seven rhinoceros was inexcusable.

"At this time of the year and on a reserve as small as Tsolwana, the lack of adequate nutritional bulk grazing should have led management to supplement the limited grazing with lucerne. This is readily available for purchase from Tarkastad," said one.

In January the rhino population at Tsolwana was some 21 animals. One hunter said this was about double what a reserve that size could carry given its limited food bank by way of grass.

He said the grazing was limited to a narrow belt along the northern front of the reserve and in the mountains along a narrow eastern boundary section that the rhino seldom, if ever, ventured into.

"Quite simply by the end of winter, a rhino population of that size and in view of the competition with other species would have run out of food. "There is no other reason for the debacle," he said, adding that warning signs should have been observed. - Sapa



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