Monday, 16 July 2012

14 July - Rhino Day!

Photo of the Day
 About two weeks ago Chad posted a very comprehensive blog about the state of rhinos in South Africa, and of course the morning spent putting chips in the horns of three rhino. Well, Wild Con and SAB returned to Motswari for round 2! Chad has given all the details and all the facts so my take is a little different. Armed with only a macro-lens on my camera, I attempted to get a couple of interesting shots, however, it was not long into the day before I abandoned my camera altogether and ran in to help hold the rhino up but I am getting ahead of myself so let me start from the beginning.

The mornings plan to to head further south in the Timbavati which is now of the red alert for areas prone to poaching or areas that could be at high risk. We have only lost one rhino so far, and nobody wants that figure to increase which is why this area needs to be managed. With a group of 19 individuals we set off into the icy morning. The air cut through the many layers of clothing we all had on, and the first part of the journey was very quiet as everyones' jaws were frozen shut. As the sun slowly started to peek out from the horizon, renditions of shosholoza began to sound from the seats behind me - clearly everyone was excited. After an introductory talk by vet Peter Rogers and warden Jaques Britz, the helicopter was up and we all bundled back into the cars following in a very dusty convey behind Jaques. In the distance we could see the helicopter swooping down, back up and around. The pilots flying skills were pretty impressive to watch. News came through the radio that the rhino was darted and we raced faster. The first rhino cow fell in rather thick bush while her calf scurried off out of sight. To our right however, we could hear the familiar sound of elephant commotion. A bull elephant was not happy with the helicopter and kept trying to charge - this meant we all had to be on extra high alert to ensure safety during the procedure. Once the rhino was down, and positioned in the most comfortable way, the work began. There was limited space due to the bushy area but each was given their task and the process went very quickly. It was a whirlwind of action and before long we were climbing back into the game viewers and watching through the trees as the first rhino of the morning slowly got back up, circled a few times and staggered off into the bush. Success!

Monitoring the rhino's breathing

Drilling for DNA samples and to insert the micro-chips

Textures at the base of the horn

Ear Notching

It didn't take long for another radio call to come through that a bull rhino had been found. Once again, we shot off in a cloud of dust to the next rhino. This one was in a more open area which made things a little easier. The person in charge had a surge of adrenaline as the rhino swayed this way and that and finally dropped. The vet had warned us to stay clear of the blood spot from the dart entry, so it was with much hilarity that we watched a fly greedily feed on the collection of blood. I doubt he last long! The process once again included breathing management, temperature watching, drilling, measuring, application of eye cream and supporting. Once we were all back in the vehicles, it was a great view of the bull slowing rising, stretching, stumbling a bit and then walking off into the distance.

Not sure how long this fly survived with a bit of M99 in him!

The last rhino we worked on was enormous. He was undoubtably the largest rhino I have ever seen, and it took quite a while for him to respond to the M99 tranquilizer drug. I was in awe watching this behemoth of a creature fight with all his will not to drop. He kept turning and trying to move away. Eventually the Wild Con guys tied a rope around his back leg to gently aid his fall. Even with the back legs down, he surged forward. What an immensely powerful animal! I personally found it quite emotional to watch his fight and as his legs began to quiver under the influence of the dart so did my bottom lip! Once he was down, it was all systems go. My camera was discarded under a tree and I helped hold up his horn and spread cool water over his increasingly warm body. He was such an impressive creature it was an absolute honor to work with him. As rangers out here, we get the privilege of observing these amazing animals regularly, but to physically work with them was something out of this world. When rhinos feed they use a hard lip lining to snip off the grass and to actually feel this hard ridge inside the mouth was incredible. The details were phenomenal; the textures of the hide, the course grain of the hair on the body, the soft folds in which ticks crawl and cling on and the heavy, powerful breaths that surged out of the nostrils.

Nail shavings for DNA samples

Herold supporting the bull rhino

It really was an amazing experience. The last rhino took a while to fall down and even longer to get back up. We were all on tenterhooks, but eventually he got up and resting his horn against a tree stump until he was ready to move on. It was a fantastic morning, what an experience so a big thank you to SAB (South African Breweries) and Wild Con for utilizing Motswari and getting us involved.

See you guys all again soon,

1 comment:

  1. What an INCREDIBLE write up!!!! I am humbled to read this, and so thrilled to know that such love and care and devotion still exists for the wild animals (especially Rhino) in SA. Brilliant work and so thrilled to read about this. Thank you.