The Aquila rhino massacre

Posted on 22 August 2011

I had dropped to my knees in tears at the sight of the bloodied mess. Aquila Private Game Reserve‘s owner, Searl Derman, picked me up off the ground, wrapped his arms around me and led me away from the gruesome crime scene. I have seen and dealt with many images of dead, dehorned rhinos but nothing prepared me for experiencing it firsthand. “˜What more could I have done?’ he said, “˜I feel like I’ve lost my child.’

It was the weekend and one of the Cape’s hottest tourist attractions was pumping with guests. Just 1.5 km from the lodge, two teams of poachers had entered the 7 500 hectare reserve in the early hours of Saturday 20 August 2011.They entered on foot using thermal night vision equipment to help them track down the rhinos. They effortlessly administered schedule seven drugs into three of the six resident rhinos. The rhinos had to be darted, if they shot them the anti poaching team and guests would hear the shots.

The reserve manager was alerted early on Saturday morning by the anti poaching team who had disturbed the poachers. They had found Aquila’s first rhino, nicknamed ABSA, still alive but with his front horn sawed off by a chain saw. The poachers had started on the second horn when they were disturbed and bolted for the fence line. The reserve manager and his team then went on a hunt for the other two rhino that were unaccounted for. Two helicopters and a small aircraft flew in from Cape Town and together they scoured the reserve to find them.

The second rhino they found was ABSA’s daughter, a young female who had been darted by the poachers and was barely alive but hadn’t been hurt yet. Thanks to the efforts of the sophisticated anti-poaching team, the poachers hadn’t got the chance to get to her. After receiving an antidote to the dart she was fine and unhurt but lingered close to her father for hours.

The third was a young male. He’d tripped and stumbled into a drainage line in his drugged haze. Using a chain saw and a machete the poachers had hacked into his flesh and cut off both his horns, leaving him to bleed to death. The poachers got away with more than 4 million rand in rhino horn. It was too late for him and the police and vets were called in to carry out an autopsy.

After having deterred two attempted poaching incidents within the last year, the Aquila anti-poaching team were equipped with the best equipment the organization could afford. Yet with R40 000+ night vision goggles, bullet proof vests, semi automatic weapons, quad bikes, vehicles and consistent monitoring throughout the night by the anti-poaching team, the poachers still managed to carry out their attack and nearly got all they came for.

ABSA was lying on his side – his head heavy, his eyes sad with a disconnected stare. His stump was covered in blood – his profile no longer representing one of a rhino. A pile of lucerne lay in front of him, untouched. A trickle of medicated water passed in front of him in the hopes that he’d drink it. The vets had no choice but to insert a syringe into his rump that would help ease his pain and inflammation. The vet’s concern at this stage was the lack of circulation to his legs and the stress that he’d endured. The procedure was tricky and dangerous but we all smiled and congratulated the vets and Searl once they’d successfully administered the medication. It was a small victory in the face of defeat.

The poachers are conducting a sophisticated operation – whoever it is behind this has access to schedule seven drugs: drugs that only vets would have. Drugs that are so regulated that there are legal requirements for prescription, storage, record keeping and destruction. These people are educated. They know exactly what they’re doing.

My concern is the lack of solutions, the lack of time and the lack of urgency by our authorities. My concern is the lack of transparency by the organizations who receive large sums of money in donations and yet rhino owners are still struggling to afford equipment and manpower. My fear is that Africa is possibly so entrenched in the pockets of our friends in the east that we are fighting a losing battle.

The small victory for Aquila is that their anti-poaching team were responsible for saving the lives of two of the attacked rhino. Their other victory was starting a viral campaign on social media platforms. Celebrities such as MC Hammer, Jo Anne Strauss, Albie Morkel and Brian Habana tweeted about #rhinopoaching, creating a world-wide awareness of the atrocity.

@AquilaSafaris: ….. third Rhino has been found…. dead…. cannot describe the devastation we are all feeling.. #aquilarhino #rhinopoaching

This is not the end – this is only the beginning of a controversial anti-poaching campaign. Let’s kick up a fuss and make some noise for Searl and his rhinos and every other rhino we’ve lost to poaching. Join the World Rhino Day campaign on the 22 September and help create the change we need to see.

For more images go to Getaway Magazine’s Facebook page.

Aquila is offering a R100 000 reward for information which could lead to the arrest of the rhino poachers.

Contact Mandi Jarman – 072-256-5531 or owner, Searl – 082-888-8661

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