Early morning (3am early) brought with it excitement akin to Christmas morning for a young child. Courtesy of Jane Edge from Fair Trade Tourism, I was fortunate enough to be experiencing this incredible event; the release of three young black rhino into a selected area of the Dinokeng Game Reserve.
This relatively new reserve is the first of its kind in Gauteng – and probably in the world – next to an urbanized area. It was officially opened on 22 September 2011 after the introduction of four of the Big 5. The last of the Big 5, the buffalo, were introduced in late 2012 and they have settled in well. Various private landowners have built lodges catering for guests who wish to self-drive through this wildlife sanctuary and since “local is lekker”; it’s something for you to consider next time you have a free weekend and wish to get a way for a few hours.
By 5:30 am our precious cargo had arrived and was contained in three massive crates being hauled in by game capture vehicles from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Department. Professors from WWF (The World Wildlife Fund), doctors on-site, vets, rangers, landowners, sponsors and keen visitors from all walks of life were given a brief introduction on the history of these pachyderms. Black rhino are a critically endangered species; this translocation being an attempt at increasing the population in South Africa.
This group, consisting of two females and one male, is part of the eleventh breeding programmes run and monitored by the WWF in recent years. With almost 20 000 hectares consisting of pristine bushveld; scrub thorn and bushes promising to provide bountiful nutritious sustenance, it was felt that the reserve was ideal in terms of habitat. An additional attraction was that the last poaching incident was in 2015.
These three young rhino had become accustomed to being held in bomas (acclimatization enclosures) and to being with each other, having been contained in them for the past 3-4 weeks. Dehorned, in an attempt to detract attention from would-be poachers, subjects 1, 2 and 3 were now anxious to be released. A group of hefty men, the size of a large rugby team, positioned themselves at the front of the crate and nervously waited for the signal. Whilst they had little idea what was about to happen, the bashing and grunting emanating from inside the crates was a bit of a clue …
The door was lifted and out crashed the first young female. Ropes (and huge amounts of testosterone on the ground) are used to assist the rhino to stumble out and sink to the ground having now been darted with M99-a drug commonly used to sedate large animals during operations like this. The rhino is placed on her side to assist breathing and ear plugs (which could be passed off for musical earphones) drown out the surrounding noise. A blindfold is placed over her eyes so that light is reduced and the sight of busy people does not cause undue stress.
The doctor moves quickly, blood samples are taken from her quivering legs, measurements and temperature are noted. The toenails (or claws as they are sometimes called) are filed to form a particular groove, thus allowing for easier identification of each individual during ongoing research projects and monitoring.
A tracking band is placed over the lower leg and as the time draws near for us to get her up and about, urgent moves are made with bottles of bright, purple antiseptic liquid (cleverly disguised in Windowlene bottles) and dabbed onto small wounds and cuts, some of them fairly new as the animals bashed themselves about during their relocation.
Before individual number one is given the antidote of the drug that will get her to her feet, the second crate is already being unloaded and our ground crew are lining up for more action. The process is repeated (with some of the crowd standing behind various trees just in case this particular rhino can play hopscotch over the ropes!)
Rhino populations tend to grow quicker if they are maintained below carrying capacity. The carrying capacity of this particular piece of land is approximately 30 animals. This means that individuals are available to re-establish populations in areas where they have become locally extinct, or be moved to augment numbers in an existing small population. This all helps to achieve the goal of increasing numbers of rhinos and returning them to their former ranges.
Pulse Africa strongly supports conservation efforts to protect and care for our natural environment. We are proud supporters of Rhino Art involving local communities, which are at times the silent witnesses to the slaughter, in an effort to fight the war against rhino poaching.
Rhino Art increases conservation awareness amongst the youth and cultivates the next generation of wildlife ‘ambassadors’ who will have a vested interest in the protection of rhino and other endangered species.
The ‘Let the Children’s Voices be Heard’ project’s aim is to gather the largest number of children’s ‘art voices’ ever recorded in support of Rhino Protection and to use these heart and mind messages from the children of Africa as a worldwide call to action against rhino poaching.