Friday, 11 May 2018

Saving the Rhino in South Africa


Last week our media tour, hosted by South African Tourism, spent two nights at the Madikwe Game Reserve in the far north of the country.

We saw an enthralling array of wild animals, many up close. On one occasion elephants walked right by our vehicle. I made a list of the creatures we saw over our three general nature drives, and it ran like this:

  • Buffalo
  • Lions (with a dead zebra)
  • Elephants
  • Rhinos
  • Giraffes
  • A jackal
  • Wild dogs
  • Impala
  • Kudu
  • Wildebeest
  • Zebra
  • Baboons
  • A crocodile
  • A hyena

But the most impressive drive was the one which focused on one animal only: the rhinoceros.

These big animals are in grave danger of poaching; every year they're illegally hunted in reserves across Africa. One of the ways to forestall this is to create a precise biological record of each rhino, which maximises the chances of a successful prosecution of smugglers and poachers, and thereby acts as a deterrent.

We were told there had recently been a prosecution in nearby Swaziland in which a poacher had received a 29 year prison sentence, his fate sealed by the irrefutable biological evidence trail back to a specific rhino.

In Madikwe this initiative is funded largely by visitors to the reserve's various lodges, who make donations which are dedicated entirely to that purpose.

We were lucky enough to see the program in action.

This is how it worked. First, a helicopter went up to locate an untagged rhino. Then the vet with the team sedated the animal with a tranquilliser dart, and we scrambled to reach it as it went under.

At this point we were allowed to approach the sleeping animal and hand the vet the necessary jars for the samples of horn and blood to be placed into. It was remarkable to stand next to such a large, exotic creature, it seeming something like a small dinosaur at rest.

Once the procedure was over, the vet injected the rhino with an agent to reverse the sedation and it awoke almost instantly, lumbering off through the bush to be reunited with its companions.

It was a special experience, and hopefully one which will help make rhino poaching ever more difficult in South Africa. And it enabled us to get an unusually close look at one of the country's many amazing animals.  

We stayed at Jaci's Lodge, see www.jacislodges.co.za. For general information about Madikwe Game Reserve, see www.madikwegamereserve.co.za