Dawn over Msunduzi Valley in northern Zululand is magical. The early sun paints the treetops burgundy, cameras and binoculars are checked and packed and there is excitement in the air. Today is the day the visitors are off to witness the darting and dehorning of a wild #rhino in the Zululand Rhino Reserve. It is Rhino dehorning day and today is a chance to witness the efforts to stop the poaching slaughter. This is no documentary - the real-feel is right there, where you can touch nature, smell it, reach out and take it into your soul.
Rhino has been located – the operation is on
The guide explains the rhino has been located and the capture team is out there assembled with military precision. Military - because this is a war; a real war with real guns and real victims. Even inside the big-game fences, despite the anti-poaching patrols, the rhino are never completely safe from the poachers. The 17 landowners who dropped their fences to create this sanctuary work with local authorities to protect endangered #Animals of Zululand. For 12 years they have been the warriors for wildlife that Africa so sadly needs.
Drought and death in the midst of the African soul
The vehicles move off, along the lightly damp track. It rained yesterday - a piddling amount in the drought-scourged bush. It's been a hard year - here the road meanders past great piles of supplemenatry feed - cut sugar cane and Lucerne. It makes for great game viewing as the warthogs, elephant, antelope gather in their large numbers to eat. It seems there is not a single blade of grass. The red earth is sun baked, the trees along the river the only splash of green. But it has rained. All thanks to all the gods for the rain.
Professional and precise might not be enough to save a life
The game capture chopper looks like a fragile dragon fly, darting up to seek and shepherd today's rhino to the designated place for darting and dehorning. Flying with incredible skill, seemingly through the very trees themselves, it darts and twists and if this were not a solemn moment, the people would cheer, but there's just quiet. The witnesses are waiting. It's not an execution, but it could be life threatening for the big beast lumbering towards the 18 month appointment with anaesthetics, drugs and manhandling. The professional rangers know the risks. They tell the group the horns grow back, so in a year and a half, if this rhino survives they will be back to remove that horn again.
The rhino is lagging, drugged, shuffling, and going down - onto a thorny bush. The team scramble to move it onto level ground - no mean feat with an animal of this size. Quickly, well drilled, well-rehearsed everyone springs to action. Cloth is covering the eyes of the great beast snuffling in semi-slumber. The vets, the rangers, the helpers, everyone has a job. The witnesses are mute with interest; with fascination, with a tinge of concern.
The stuff that hair is made of bleeds
The big saw is out - you can cut a tree down with it, but this is the living flesh of a live animal. It bleeds a bit. The horn is passed around. It is heavy. "All of this is because of this bony core covered with a sheath of keratin - the stuff that makes hair and nails," the witnesses are told. It has no medicinal or health benefits whatsoever. The huge beast gets another drug. It wakes up quickly. This is not a happy animal. People stand back, ready for flight, but it wants to get away - away from the people, away from the smells, back to his quiet patch of bushveld.
Our children’s children
The group look at each other. There is silence. There are tears. People swallow hard. Sombre now, it's time to return to camp - to check the photos they will take away with them, the images they will keep safe for their children’s children who will very possibly never see a live rhino wallowing at the pan, rubbing the ticks off on a tree stump, or standing magnificent against the sun that is setting on Africa's last of the legendary unicorns. #Conservation