De-horning day dawned, not without some sense of ‘’are we really going to do this….is this the only way….not too late to stop the procedure….’’ Especially as the new mother was happily horning her way through a big mud embankment, thrusting, shoving, scouring, digging and flicking big chunks up in the air, her entire horn packed with mud….
Over the last 18 months or so we have received an escalating number of tip offs that our rhino are a target to be poached. Our little game park is at once vulnerable, being easily accessible and close to town but at the same time less vulnerable as we do not have wilderness areas where the rhino are unseen for any length of time. Visitors to the park can spend the day self-driving through the park, can partake in a guided game drive in our open vehicles and/or stay over in our self catering accommodation. It would be quite easy for poachers to book into the accommodation for the night, do a late afternoon self-drive, see where the rhino are last thing in the evening, phone the info through to their cronies who would then know whereabouts to enter the park, over fences to poach the rhino.
The day before our latest calf was born, a Saturday, an anti-poaching group came to warn us with very specific information, that our big female was a target over the next 3 days. They usually just phone us so this was very worrying especially as we knew she was due to calf any day . Early the following morning she gave birth to her beautiful little girl. The urgency to keep them safe along with the 4 year old ''teenager'' was again highlighted by the birth of the calf.
Even more security measures where put in place, surveillance equipment, searching all vehicles entering the park but 24/7 eyes on was the only way we felt we could ensure their safety. Friends,neighbours and other interested parties helped with patrols. At this point we kept the birth of the calf under wraps, however, at the advice of the anti-poaching guys, a week later we broadcast her birth loud and clear, in so doing, the park got really busy with visitors making it that much harder for poachers to get up to no good undetected.
At this point we were receiving up to 4 specific threats a week, the most frightening one being an actual attempt. Anti poaching teams hidden away in the bush, a vehicle with known poachers under surveillance was followed out to the park and then lost ! We understood that the poachers had to be caught on the property with weapons etc. but the risk and thought of our rhino possibly being harmed was just too awful to bear…
De-horning is not a suitable option in a lot of instances. Rhino use their horns to defend themselves against predators including elephant, and other rhino. Black rhino use their horns to pull down branches, especially if they have a calf at foot to help browse. There is also the thought that de-horning would efect their social interaction. Each rhino's circumstances should be carefully considered before de-horning.
Our family was divided on de-horning the rhino, heated debates raged, all good & well keeping eyes on 24/7 however it's just not sustainable, friends and neighbours have their own lives and will soon tire of it. Then this story broke of the poached rhino found staggering around, alive still, with massive injuries and later that day euthanized. The thought of waking up to THAT was just dreadful.
Dr William Fowlds carefully measuring so as not to damage the growth point in the centre of the horn.
Both first and second horn remains are microchipped, as well as the removed horns.
Baby Bembi, bravely trying to fend off 'intruders'.....not a dry eye in the house.....
Vet administering the reversal drug, hats off to him and his team, quiet efficiency......
Garnett Cantor, still pondering....hated to have to de-face these beautiful creatures
Next up was the the 4 year old - rolling her into position for easier breathing.
Belita's horns removed, both stumps and horns microchipped. DNA samples also taken for records.
The weight of the event on everyones' faces
Is this the face of the future...?