Poachers have fatally poisoned five rhinos and several other animals in a South African nature reserve, a new tactic conservationists said was deeply worrying.
The incident is one of the worst of its kind in living memory in South Africa, where the poaching of rhinos is relatively rare.
Rhinos are targeted in Africa and Asia for their horns, which fetch high prices in Yemen where they are prized for dagger handles and in East Asia where they are used in traditional medicines.
A police spokeswoman said the animals’ carcasses were discovered on Monday in the Nwanedi Nature Reserve about 300 miles north of Johannesburg.
It is believed a watering hole was laced with a poison called temic. Dozens of other animals were also killed.
One of the rhinos had its horn hacked off.
“It is suspected that it is poaching and it appears that it is the first incident (poaching rhinos by poison) of its kind,” police spokeswoman Ronel Otto said.
Poachers usually shoot the animals, but traps and snares are also used.
Otto said tests were being run on the dead animals.
Other creatures which died included antelope, zebra, warthogs, baboons and birds.
Conservationists said the development was disturbing.
“I’ve never heard of poison being used on rhinos before, small animals and birds yes but not such a large animal,” said Jason Bell-Leask, the southern African director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
“The scary thing is that through the use of poison they are looking at killing large numbers of animals at once,” he told Reuters.
The rhinos were white rhinos, which are the most numerous member of the rhino clan but are still considered endangered. Despite their name they are gray.
White rhinos, the world’s second largest land mammal, were pushed to the brink of extinction a century ago but conservation efforts saved them and they now number several thousand.