Whilst in South Africa, I was shadowing a wildlife veterinarian based in Hoedspruit, Limpopo. We went to a reserve that is part of the Greater Kruger national park very early one morning, with a team of other qualified personnel to assist with immobilising 4 rhino.
The Greater Kruger national park is linked to Kruger national park, and is made up of an area of private reserves which have no boundary between Kruger national park and themselves. This allows a larger roaming area for wildlife, and the gives the diverse population of species that live there an increased choice of habitat. Some of the bush is very flat and dry with minimal shrubbery, and some of it is and dense and forest like, with tall trees and plants, perfect for hiding within but not great for running through at any speed!
The rhino were to be immobilised so we could implant microchips into their horns, ear notch them and obtain DNA samples. They were immobilised by a dart containing anaesthetic, which was place from a helicopter, which allowed them to be anaesthetised so the procedures could be carried out quickly and safely. The rhinos were then given an injection that reversed the anaesthetic.
The event was sponsored as it costs around 60,000 SAR to do this, as you need a helicopter for the whole day. The people who paid for the sponsorship come along and get involved with monitoring respiration etc. and its a great way to involve more people in anti-poaching schemes, and raise awareness of this horrendous crime.
This work doesn’t stop the rhino being poached – quite frankly unless you can put a armed guard on every rhino nothing will, but we microchipped both horns and behind the ears in case of removal of the head, so that the horn can be traced to a specific rhino, along with the DNA sample. This means poachers are prosecuted for poaching, not just possession of horn, which is what happens if there is no way of identifying the rhino the horn came from.
The ear notching is done so they can easily be identified by patrol staff from a distance, including the sky, allowing accurate and efficient monitoring of the rhino population.
The photographs below show an anaesthetised rhino which has been soaked with water to keep him cool, and the pen marking the position on the ear that the notch will be removed from.
I was actively involved with the anaesthetic monitoring, and cooling of the rhinos whilst they were under anaesthetic, which was achieved by pouring cool water over them at regular intervals. The anaesthetic was short and every rhino got up and walked away calmly with no complications, so the event was a great success, and hopefully a step in the right direction to protecting these amazing animals from poaching.
I felt very fortunate to be involved with this conservation effort, and lucky to be able to get so close to these amazing creatures. But at the same time you can’t help but feel saddened that any of this is even necessary, we shouldn’t have to go to such lengths to try and gain a future prosecution, knowing full well that protecting every one of these animals is impossible.
The horrific fact is that in 2016 alone, 1054 rhinos were poached, and over the last 10 years, over 7137 rhinos have been killed.
So as much as I loved the experience, and being on the ground with a wild rhino is an experience that will stay with me for life, I can’t wait for the day, which I hope will come, where this doesn’t need to occur.
If you want to learn more about the plight against rhinos and the ongoing poaching battle, https://www.savetherhino.org, is a very informative website with up to date information and ways in which you can help by raising both funds and awareness.
“Save the Rhino International’s vision is for all five rhino species to thrive in the wild for future generations. We collaborate with partners to support endangered rhinos in Africa and Asia.”
If you would like to donate to Save the Rhino, please follow the following link: