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Two Beautiful Rhinos Were Mates For Life. And Then ...

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For those who knew Tangarira, his violent death was a wrecking ball.

One of 5,000 or so black rhinos left in the world, he was murdered by poachers on the night of September 11.

"He was very beloved by all who knew him," Dave Strydom, conservator of the 210,000-acre Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy in Zimbabwe, told The Dodo. "We found him in the early hours of Saturday morning ... killed with one shot and his horns chopped out."

Rhino horn is aggressively targeted for the illegal trade, and Strydom told Zimbabwe's News 24 that poachers had likely crept up to the increasingly solitary animal: "We can only assume that the poachers were watching the (rhino) monitors, and when they left him after dark, they moved in quickly and shot him." The next morning, Tangarira was found approximately 100 metres from where he had last been seen.

The last photo of Tangarira before he was killed, September 2015, Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy

Midlands conservancy was Tangarira's home since 1997; he was the organization's first and ultimately oldest male rhino, and his name fittingly meant "The First to Come." He was about 34 years old upon his arrival, Strydom said, and had been born with a deformed horn.

But he was "a real bull," Strydom said. "He fought with other bulls that came into our area and appeared to win all the scraps."

Not long after Tangarira's arrival, Midlands received another black rhino: a young, docile, two-and-a-half year old female named Tapiwa. Her name means "We've Been Given."

The two became inseparable.

Tapiwa and Tangarira, Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy

The conservatory kept constant watch on the two animals. "One evening," Strydom said, "I was motorcycling in the area Tangarira had last been seen. I came across him in the middle of the road. He immediately started to huff and puff and looked as if he was going to charge. He always started with a few small little rushes before deciding on the big rush and follow through."

But Strydom said that the unexpected happened: "I put the motorbike between me and him and then spoke gently to him, telling him to steady on. He recognized my voice, started browsing in front of me and walked away."

"I had learned something," Strydom said. "Tangarira taught us a great deal about rhino. They are intelligent. They don't have good eyesight, but a good nose, and he could recognize by scent and sound me and the trackers who monitored [him and Tapiwa]."

Ultimately Tangarira and Tapiwa mated for life, having two children together.

That is, until Tapiwa was killed by poachers in 2007. "At that time she had a very small baby boy, who was called Tinashe. He was so small that we had to get in the wildlife team and have him darted ... He did not leave his mother's carcass and would have surely died," Strydom said.

Years later, Tangarira mated again. His daughter, named Tafara (meaning "We Are happy"), is now 3 years old.

Strydom said that he had no indication Tangarira was being targeted by poachers: "Nothing untoward was expected before he was found early Saturday morning. The shot that killed him was not heard, and he was found in a very rocky area where it was hard to find tracks, and where the bush had previously been burnt out by poachers."

In an ironic twist, Tangarira was set to be dehorned on September 14, as a deterrent to him being poached. Permits were delayed, says Strydom, and there is speculation that the killing was an inside job. A number of men were eventually arrested for Tangarira's killing, but were released on a measly $100 bail each.

Tangarira dehorned in 2010, Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy

"We lost a great bull, and hopefully his progeny will not be killed so that his genes will survive for future generations," Strydom said."I had great admiration for Tangarira. He was a gentleman."

"We are devastated," he added, "by his loss."