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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : November 2000 : First rhino killed in mass farm invasions

First rhino killed in mass farm invasions

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
November 2, 2000

Harare - Lawlessness on Zimbabwe's commercial farming areas by thousands of squatters has claimed its first killing of a black rhinoceros, one of the world's most endangered species, it was confirmed Thursday.

A bull rhino on the "Save" wildlife conservancy in the remote southeastern Lowveld region was snared and died last week, said Clive Stockil, chairman of the conservancy.

It was the first black rhino to have been killed by poachers on private land since 1992, shortly after a dramatic operation to move rhinos away from almost certain death by poachers in the Zambezi Valley in northern Zimbabwe, and on to the relative safety of privately-owned game parks.

"It is the only one that we have discovered, but we strongly suspect that many could have been killed by invaders," said Graham Connear, administrator of the conservancy, a unique experiment where about 20 cattle ranchers in the early 90s agreed to join their properties, sell off their cattle and to "farm" wildlife instead. "Poaching is rampant and we are not able to move around to assess the situation," he said.

Save and most other white-owned properties in the Lowveld are under relentless siege by thousands of squatters, led by so-called war veterans who have decimated huge areas of indigenous bush by chopping down trees and by fire, and laid an almost impenetrable network of snares.

Clive Stockil, the founder of the conservancy, said the 45-year- old rhino bull, named Penga, had been found last week by game scouts with its rear left leg caught in a double-stranded snare made out of wire cut from the ranch's game fence.

"Unfortunately, he had wrapped himself around a bush, he had fallen at an awkward angle and he couldn't get back on his feet," said Stockil.

Penga was anaesthetised with a dart gun, and the snare was removed, before he was able to cut into the skin.

"We revived him and he got up, but he found it very difficult to put weight on the injured leg," he said. Penga was under constant watch throughout the night and into the next day.

"But he lay down at noon and died, before we could get back to him to try and revive him again.

"It was complicated by the fact that he was very old. If he it was a younger animal, I think we would have been more successful."

Penga was part of the first group of black rhinos to be moved to the Save from the Zambezi where poachers had reduced a population of over 2,000 black rhinos, the biggest wild collection of the species in Africa, to about 170.

In the last 10 years at the Save, however, the rescued rhinos had doubled their numbers to 72. "The poaching, the snaring is still going on unabated," said Gerry Davison, environamental affairs officer for the Commercial Farmers Union. Hundreds of animals - antelope, giraffe, warthogs, cheetah, leopard and wild dog, also endagnered - have been killed.

"Last week we flew over the area and the fence had been cut in about 50 places and people are pushing cattle in," he said.

There have been repeated warnings that foot-and-mouth disease, which is endemic among wild buffalo, could easily be spread among domestic cattle moving on to the ranch. It could lead to a major outbreak of the disease and force the suspension of exports of Zimbabwean beef.

Game scouts have suffered continual intimidation and death threats by war veterans, while police were "not making any attempt even to appear to be unbiased", said Davison.

Earlier this week, scouts caught two poachers and shot one in the foot when he tried to attack his captors with a machete. The scout is under arrest for attempted murder.

"There is a conservation crisis down there," said Raoul du Toit, a senior official of the World Wide Fund for Nature which is heavily supporting Zimbabwe's rhino survival programme.

"We are very concerned about the decimation of not just rare wildlife species there but of the whole wildlife resource base.

"The about 20 ranches that make up Save are among the 1,700 white- owned properties invaded since February last year when the campaign of lawlessness and violence, urged on by Mugabe, began.

So far six white farmers have been murdered, thousands of farmers and their workers have been savagely beaten and millions of US dollars of property has been stolen or destroyed.

Mugabe has repeatedly defied court orders to have the squatters moved.



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