Tommy Fraser, one of the owners of the Dabchick nature reserve near Alma in Limpopo, said the farm manager, Martin Roux, “heard the blows of the axe echoing”.
The rhino cow was killed at about 01:30 on the farm in the Rankins Pass, about 50km north of Thabazimbi.
Fraser said the cow’s month-old calf stood screaming next to his mothers bleeding carcass. The calf also tried to drink from his mother, who was already dead.
“It was shocking to see this. It sounded like he was crying.”
The cow, Big Bertha, was 9 years old.
The rhinos on the farm were guarded by armed men. “We divide the farm into areas and get patrols to drive through and guard them.”
The farm is over 1 000 hectares.
Sunday night was full moon, a time popular with poachers. Rhino owners also referred to full moon as “poacher’s moon”.
Roux apparently had just returned from a patrol on the farm when he heard a shot.
He got into his bakkie and drove in the direction of the shot.
Later he had to start looking on foot in the veld.
“He heard how the poachers chopped off the horns with axes. It was very traumatic.”
Meanwhile more farmers and guards were called. They set up roadblocks to try to catch the poachers.
By the time Roux found the cow, she was already dead and the poachers were gone.
Fraser said the month-old calf wouldn’t leave its mother. “It kept nudging its mother.”
Fraser called Dr Louis Greeff, a vet from Thabazimbi. The calf was sedated and is now recuperating in a rehabilitation clinic where Greeff is looking after him.
Greeff was the same vet who in September last year tried to save a 3-week-old rhino calf who landed in a tree after poachers shot dead its mother near Brits. The calf later died.
“Big Bertha was part of our family,” said Fraser.
He said they were planning to start a unit called Threatened Wildlife Protection Academy next month.
It would train people to guard rhinos.
“They are gentle animals and we would like to teach people how to be in a rhino’s shadow to protect them.”
Several private rhino owners in Limpopo have armed guards who protect the animals in the veld.
Fraser said he was “pleading with government” to legalise the rhino trade. This was the only way to stop poaching, he said.
Since the beginning of the year, 164 rhino had been killed for their horns. Of these, 95 were in the Kruger National Park. Last year, 443 rhinos had been killed.