On Sunday Night, the red lunar eclipse thrilled captivated viewers on four continents, but there was more than just sky gazing going on in Africa's Hluhluwe-Imfolozi wildlife reserve. Between Friday and Monday morning a vicious killing spree left eight of Africa's iconic and threatened white rhinos dead in its wake.
In Africa, every full moon period is a time of dread for wildlife conservationists. The natural light nearly eliminates the need for flashlights or other lighting that would give away a poacher's position to watchful eye. Under the light of the moon, poachers have already claimed the lives of 86 white rhinos in 2015, quickly approaching 2014's kill total of 99. However, these numbers are just for the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi wilderness reserve alone. From 2010 to 2015, 4,714 rhino deaths have been reported in Africa according to an investigative environmental journalism project called Oxpeckers.
Unfortunately, this past weekend it seems that poachers were killing two birds with one stone as six of the eight rhino killings happened during the period of the red supermoon. All six of the rhinos killed that night had their horns, a barbaric practice, but not one that needed to be fatal. Four of the animals were killed with an overdose of chemical darting while two others were shot with a rifle.
While Hluhluwe-Imfolozi has gone to great lengths to combat poaching, they are losing the battle on almost all fronts. They have a number of talented and dedicated anti-poaching rangers, but their lack of manpower and a sufficient budget makes it difficult to keep their rhinos safe at all times.
In one thankful stroke of luck over the lunar eclipse weekend, it seems that the poachers didn't kill all their prey. One adult rhino was found with his horn removed, but still alive. The animal was chemically darted, but not hit with enough of a dose to kill it. The rhino is expected to make a full recovery.