Staff at a luxury Eastern Cape private game reserve have been left devastated after a rhino on the Great Karoo reserve died as a result of a freak accident during a darting operation in which a tracking collar was to be replaced.
A helicopter and an on-site vet formed part of the operation, which took place on the Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve outside Graaff-Reinet on Friday morning.
Authorities have called the death of the adult rhino bull an “unfortunate incident”, confirming that the operation was overseen by police, a television film crew and environmental authorities.
The entire ordeal was filmed by American-based Dallas Safari Club, who were shooting a rhino poaching documentary on the reserve.
One of the reserve owners, Iain Buchanan, yesterday said they were devastated by the incident.
“We had all the checks and measures in place. One of the country’s top wildlife vets was also present and did the darting,” he said.
“The incident happened during a routine darting exercise to change a tracking collar on the rhino and, if needed, also remove the re-growth of the horn.
“The film crew was also present as part of the documentary to educate others about the poaching crisis in South Africa.”
Buchanan said the rhino was darted from the helicopter but the drugs appeared to take a long time to work, leaving the animal to run quite a distance before falling down a slope.
Buchanan said when his team reached the rhino it was still breathing, but it died as its collar was being replaced.
“We are not sure what happened but we are awaiting results from the vet to see if it is linked to the darting drugs used.
“It is also thought that the position in which the rhino fell, against a rock, could have blocked the blood flow to one of its arteries.”
Buchanan said they did not want to speculate further until postmortem and blood results were in.
“The amount of time and funds that have been put into keeping the rhino safe seems pointless when something like this happens, which is a direct result of trying to curb the poaching situation in South Africa,” he said.
During 2014 and 2015, three rhino were poached on the reserve.
Since then security had been beefed up, which included placing tracking devices on the rhino, dehorning projects and employing an anti-poaching unit.
“If one thinks about it, this is essentially the poachers’ fault – if there was no poaching we would not need these collars,” Buchanan said.
Eastern Cape Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism MEC Sakhumzi Somyo described the rhino death as a freak occurrence.
“It is very sad that this has happened, but maximum precautions were taken. My team was accompanying them as well as a vet and other officials.”