Linzetta Calitz, The Lowvelder | February 20, 2021
After widespread concern for the safety of animals within the Mthethomusha Game Reserve where the Bongani Mountain Lodge is located, three rhinos on the reserve have all been successfully relocated.
The Aspinall Foundation in partnership with WILDTRUST and the Wildlife Emergency Fund again aided the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) in rehoming these rhinos after it had assisted the agency in determining the safety of animals on the reserve about a week ago.
Jana Meyer of the Hope for Wildlife Helicopter Services did the flying while the MTPA capture team provided ground support.
Dereck Milburn, regional director of the Aspinall Foundation, said this extensive operation took place in three phases over the last seven days.
The team had to wait for the rhinos to be in the right locations before they could capture and translocate them. “Mthethomusha has exceptionally difficult terrain to work in,” remarked Milburn.
Despite the challenging terrain, the operation “went really well and no people or animals were injured.” Milburn said this was largely due to the expertise of the MTPA ground crew and the experienced helicopter flying. “We could not have asked for better.”
A considerable amount of time was spent flying over the reserve with helicopters and no carcasses were seen. “The rhinos were considered the only animals at immediate risk and they were therefore translocated.”
“Considerable resources have been spent on this to date.”
The partners contributed R110 000 for helicopter time, vet costs, some equipment and the MTPA provided trucks, crates and ground crews.
“It was definitely a collaborative effort showing how NGOs can work successfully with government in emergencies like this.”
The team found the situation calm at Bongani Mountain Lodge and were able to access the reserve by public roads. “We did not experience any hostile activity and it is clear that the MTPA team has everything under control.”
The CEO of WILDTRUST, Dr Roelie Kloppers, remarked on the importance of supporting the vision of this area as an example of conservation in post-apartheid South Africa. “We have been particularly successful working with rural communities in converting land reform sites into biodiversity stewardship sites.
“Here, we provided support for immediate action to move the rhino to safety and hope we can assist in the ongoing work to get the situation stabilised as the area is critical for community-based conservation,” said Kloppers.
Three men suspected to be involved in the torching of the lodge have been arrested. They appeared in the KaNyamazane Magistrate’s Court on charges of arson, possession of stolen goods and other crimes on Tuesday February 9. The matter was postponed to February 26 for a bail application.