Close-up of a darted rhino

Mofemedi rhino recovery reports

After our cultural and wildlife safari in Botswana, we volunteered on the Tuli Conservation project in eastern Botswana for 2 weeks. We left the Tuli project 2 weeks early to join a Rhino and Buffalo darting project back in South Africa. As some of you may know rhino poaching is on the rise. The demand for rhino horn in Vietnam for traditional medicine and more recently as a perceived cure for cancer is driving the demand. There have been 171 rhinos poached in South Africa so far this year. 103 of these rhinos have been poached from Kruger National Park.

As security in the park is tightened, poachers will move to private game reserves. Reserve owners may not have the resources to protect their rhinos. Here’s where we come in. The money we pay to join the project will help to pay for darting rhinos and putting collars on them. This way reserve managers can keep track of them as well as the volunteers who can now track them daily.

Last Friday we joined a team to dart a rhino and a buffalo. Our job was to track the rhino and radio the location to the helicopter pilot on standby. We didn’t see the rhino but found her tracks so knew she was in the area. We didn’t see the actual darting as it is done from a helicopter by a vet. The drugs used to dart a rhino are very powerful and can only be administered by a vet. Once darted the pilot radios the ground crew (us) and we move in to affix a collar. I got to hold the rhino’s leg so she wouldn’t kick Anthony who was putting the collar around her ankle. I felt her leathery hide and she was quite warm. Water is poured over her to keep her cool. Luckily it was cloudy.

She was a beautiful rhino and may be pregnant. After the darting, I was overcome with emotions. What a privilege to be so close to such an amazing animal. It breaks my heart that her species may not survive on this planet because of the greed of humans. I hope I’ve helped in a small way to help protect her kind.

Now to collar a buffalo. This time we waited for the helicopter pilot to find the buffalo, dart her and call us in to put the collar around her neck. Mission accomplished.

Yesterday we went to track the collared rhinos. We received signals from their collars but did not get sightings. I did spot a magnificent bull. We watched him until the sunset. I hope generations to come will get to experience a wild Rhino on the African plain.

Volunteering at a conservation project isn’t only about the “official” conservation work. Although this is a hugely important aspect of volunteering, simply living in a wildlife reserve and sharing the everyday life of rangers and reserve managers provides many memorable experiences. This week Mofemedi volunteers Peggy and Marc Faucher got to discover what “looking after your pets” can mean, if your home happens to be an African game farm where the “kitties” are fully grown lions, the house pet is a Nyala and the critters under your bed aren’t mice but giant monitor lizards!

Yesterday we got a call from Howard that he was going to feed the “kitties”, if anyone wanted to watch. Sure we did. We rushed off to the “kitty enclosure” and Howard was there in his Land Rover with a dead Impala in the back. We followed Howard into the lion enclosure in vehicles of course and the lions were waiting for lunch. It’s kind of hard to see through the bushes but the Impala was pushed off the back of the Land Rover and the lions pounced on it dragging it into the bushes. The 3 lions (1 female and 2 males) feasted on the carcass with a few snarls and growls (photo 4). The experience gave new meaning to feeding the cats. No friskies for these kitties!

No sooner had we settled back into camp when Elisa got a frantic call from Loren. A giant monitor lizard had crawled through a hole in the roof and was dangling above her bed! He fell to the floor with a thud and promptly disappeared. Loren was requesting backup to find him and get him out of the house. We arrived on the scene and carefully peered under the furniture finally locating him peering from under Elisa’s bed. We devised a plan to herd him out of the house with a broom but he wouldn’t budge. No one wanted to grab him since monitor lizards have formidable claws and a bite laden with bacteria.

Finally, Elisa got brave and threw her towel over him, gingerly lifted him and carried him outside. Luckily, he did not put up a struggle preferring to play dead instead. Once released he slunk off into the tall grass. There’s never a dull moment when you live on a game farm in South Africa.

Today we were just finishing checking the waterhole pumps when we got a call from Howard. Bucky, the pet Nyala had escaped (no, we didn’t let her out). He wanted to know if anyone wanted to go with him in his helicopter to fetch a dart gun and drugs from the local vet. We drew sticks and I got the longest one so Marc and I got to join Howard. We met the vet on a neighbouring farm, set the chopper down and picked up the gun and drugs. We returned to the airstrip and then piled into the back of Howard’s Land Rover to find Bucky who had wandered into a nearby village.

We located her literally in the village next to a house. Howard darted her and his workers lifted her to the back of the truck. I kept the blindfold on so she wouldn’t get too stressed out. We drove back to the farm where Bucky was given a reversal drug. She almost immediately got up on wobbly legs. I think Bucky learned an important lesson today. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence!

- ACE volunteers Marc and Peggy Faucher