A Big Victory for a Fragile Species

Posted on Thu April 4, 2019.

Finally some closure for Mount Camdeboo as the Ndlovu Gang is ordered to serve a 25 year prison sentence each for the killing of 10 rhinos on various reserves in the Eastern Cape.

The first blow came in May 2014, when Mount Camdeboo found that its bold, cheeky adult male rhino, Stompie, had been killed and his horn, brutally hacked off. It was a tragedy for the reserve and a bitter reminder of the delicate plight of this species.

But the horror was not over. Four more rhinos would be killed over the next year and a half, despite increased vigilance and ramped-up anti-poaching efforts. One of the rhinos, an unborn calf.

Since then, Mount Camdeboo has collaborated with local and provincial networks and sought support within the conservation community, and there have been no more casualties. But in the work of protecting wildlife, success always feels tenuous. In a climate where poaching rings are highly sophisticated, well-funded operations and laws, often not robust enough to deal with criminals, many feel like the bad guys have the upper hand. Until now.

Yesterday, 3 April 2019 the Ndlovu Gang, a notorious poaching trio responsible for the killing of Mount Camdeboo’s rhinos, has finally been brought to justice. Two of the men were found guilty on 50 charges each and the other on 45 charges connected to the killing of 10 rhinos on various reserves in the Eastern Cape region and have each been sentenced to serve a 25 year prison term. Makhanda’s High Court issued the verdict and, in the process, detailed the gang’s blatant methods. When arrested in June 2016, they possessed 10 kilos of rhino horn (worth over R1-million on the black market), tools, tranquilizers, a dart gun, saw and knife. Read more about the sentencing here.

“The judgement restores our confidence in the legal system,” says Mount Camdeboo’s owner, Iain Buchanan. “It’s a victory for our province and the conservation world as a whole.” He adds that it gives owners some assurance that wildlife is a precious resource, protected under the law.

While the financial, emotional and security burdens of harbouring rhinos are still high, stakeholders will be more likely to take the risk with a well-worn path to recourse. A ruling like this could shift the trajectory of this endangered species.

Although poaching of rhino on Mount Camdeboo has been devastating, it has become an integral part of its story. The reserve is dedicated to conservation through both ecotourism and education.

After the fetus of the stillborn baby rhino was delivered by wildlife vet, Dr William Fowlds, Buchanan had it cast in bronze. It has since served as a very real symbol of wildlife crime’s terrible collateral. Now, in partnership with Rhino Disharmony, the statue is part of a concert and creative programme that aims to educate the world on the state of these creatures.

“That was my way of telling the story,” says Buchanan. “The statue was meant to be a point of contact for people to connect intimately with this issue. Especially for those who can’t see and appreciate these animals for themselves.”

But even with legal justice, hope – for the species, for the environment – continues to be a fragile thing. Nevertheless, Mount Camdeboo is clinging to it.

“My hope lives on in the baby bronze,” says Buchanan, “my role is in the space of telling this story.”

Our sincere thanks to all parties involved including William Fowlds, the wildlife vet who has continued to support Mount Camdeboo throughout this process.