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Harry moved after rhino and calf killed for horn by Kruger Park poacher

Published 02/12/2015

Prince Harry meets environmental crime investigations rangers who are gathering evidence in the hope of catching poachers
Prince Harry meets environmental crime investigations rangers who are gathering evidence in the hope of catching poachers
Prince Harry helps in an operation on Hope, a young female black rhino that was brutally wounded by poachers in the Eastern Cape of South Africa (Kensington Palace/PA)
Prince Harry is helping in an operation to de-horn a rhino to deter poachers during his visit to southern Africa (Kensington Palace/PA)
Prince Harry meets students during a lesson as he visits to Southern African Wildlife College
Prince Harry lies on top of a sedated female elephant in Kruger National Park in southern Africa (Kensington Palace/PA)
Prince Harry meets a student during his visit to a flagship wildlife centre close to Kruger National Park

Prince Harry has been shown the gruesome sight of a recently slaughtered female rhino and her calf - killed for her horn, which said to be the most valuable animal commodity in the world "gramme by gramme".

The 31-year-old was visibly moved when he visited the scene in South Africa's Kruger National Park, where environmental crime investigations rangers were gathering evidence in the hope of eventually catching the poachers.

Harry's guides were Major General Johan Jooste, who is in charge of Kruger's anti- poaching team, and senior environmental investigator Frik Rossouw, who has been a ranger for 27 years.

Both men spent time with the Prince during his 10-day visit to Kruger over the summer, part of his three-month period working in Africa as a wildlife conservation volunteer.

Harry asked questions about the work to gather evidence but could not hold back his feelings, and at one point he gestured at the carcass and said: "This belongs to South Africa and it's been stolen by other people."

His voice trailed off as he tried to put his feelings into words: "And the body's left here, wasted, just for..."

He later said in a determined tone to the rangers: "But these people will be caught."

South Africa has 80% of the world's rhino population with just over half that number, between 8,000 and 9,000, in the Kruger Park.

Last year 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa, almost triple the 448 poached in 2011, and as of August 27 this year 749 animals had been slaughtered, with 544 of the deaths in Kruger.

Mr Jooste said the rhino was facing an "Armageddon" moment: "For us South Africans, this is serious - an animal of prehistoric origins that is being slaughtered in numbers and dramatically more so because we saved the rhino.

"Remember in 1960 there were no rhino in the park and, through the efforts of visionaries and brave people, they resettled 150 and that grew to thousands, we have eight to nine thousands.

"This is Armageddon or not for the rhino."

He claimed that "gramme by gramme" rhino horn, which is prized in south-east Asia where it is ground down and used in medicinal remedies, is the most expensive animal product in the world.

Speaking about the need for a secure perimeter at the park, he said: "You need a good fence - you cannot have the most expensive commodity on the Earth walking in the area when you have a normal gate fence around the place."

Harry was shown the crime scene, which was a 12-minute helicopter flight from Skukuza airport in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa - the gateway to the two million hectare (4.9 million acres) national park.

The carcasses were found on Monday and are thought to have been there for two to three days before they were discovered.

The female white rhino was stopped by a shot and then her two-year-old male calf, who would not leave her, was shot dead before the mother was killed with a third bullet and their horns removed.

Harry was shown the bullets that were found lying on the ground as well as some cigarette butts that the poachers had left behind which are likely to contain their DNA.

The rhino carcasses had been severely scavenged by vultures and hyenas.

Harry showed his knowledge of procedures when he said: "You have to try to get to the carcass as quickly as possible to suck up all the evidence before the wilds of Africa take it. It's always a race against time."

While looking at the cigarette butts and surveying the scene, the Prince observed: "These guys seem a bit sloppy compared to the other guys."

Ranger Rossouw agreed, adding that some amateur poachers do not know how to cut off the horn and just hack away at the animal's head.

Rangers at the park discover 75% of the victims of poaching within a week but, with up to two rhinos being killed every day, they have an enormous task.

Maj Gen Jooste said that when Harry was out with them in the summer, he attended poaching scenes and was moved by them.

The former army officer said: "He saw crime scenes and carcasses ... you could see that it deeply affected him, you could see the passion."

In a speech to graduating rangers from the Southern African Wildlife College, Harry said a recent court ruling, which lifted a domestic ban on rhino horn trading in South Africa, would have a devastating effect.

He said: "It's not for me to second-guess a court or the legal reasons behind its decision, but what I strongly believe is that the legalisation of rhino horn trading will accelerate the path to extinction."

Last week a South African judge lifted the ban after two game breeders fought a legal battle to overturn the moratorium.

The government had put the policy in place in 2009 in a bid to combat the threat to rhinos and has said it plans to challenge the ruling.

Harry said: "The number of rhinos poached in South Africa has grown by nearly 500% in just five years, with most of these occurring in Kruger."

He added: "If current poaching rates continue there will be no wild African elephants or rhinos left by the time children born this year - like my niece, Charlotte - turn 25.

"If we let this happen, the impact on the long-term prosperity of this country and on the natural heritage of the planet will be enormous and irreversible."

Harry announced that his brother William's United for Wildlife umbrella group of conservation organisations would work with, and fund, the Southern African Wildlife College.

During his tour of the college, near Kruger, Prince Harry showed an impressive knowledge of bush tracking skills when he joined a group of trainees.

"What is the difference between white rhino dung and black rhino dung?" he asked them, to test their knowledge.

As one of the trainees explained later, black rhinos eat leaves from trees, so their dung has got more twigs in it.

Octavia Makhubele, 24, who joined the training scheme in May, said: "I was surprised that he knew lots about the bush. He would make a good ranger."

The prince was also shown a range of demonstrations from camouflaged rangers hiding in the bush - something they can do for days in a bid to spot poachers - to others showing off their map-reading or displaying their kit.

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