We started the day with a nature walk through Canarvon Dale, the non-predator section of Amakhala. Our guides, Jeff, Jake and Francois guided us through the reserve teaching us about the various flora and fauna of the Eastern Cape. This included the natural history of termite mounds, edible plants and animal tracks.
In the afternoon Dr Fowlds introduced us all to his main passion: rhino conservation. Rhino poaching has been at a fairly stable low level until 2008 when a sudden increase in international demand for Rhino horn exponentially raised the level of poaching. Rhino horn is not only used in traditional South East Asian medicine, but is also seen as an item of significant social status. Dr Fowlds active involvement in the Rhino situation began after a tragic poaching encounter with a Rhino that was born on his reserve. The Rhino, Geza (meaning “naughty boy”) had been transferred to a nearby reserve after which he was sadly mutilated for his horn. Geza was found alive the following morning but his injuries were so appalling he had to be euthanised.
In 2012 Dr Fowlds was called to another reserve, Kariega, for another poaching incident. This time three Rhinos were involved; the big bull rhino didn’t survive the night, but there were two that did, Themba and Thandi. Both had sustained horrific injuries around their faces where the horns had been hacked off using axes. It was estimated that Thandi had lost up to 20 litres of blood. Dr Fowlds treated them both to the best of his abilities, but unfortunately 24 days later Themba succumbed to his injuries. Thandi however received reconstructive surgery from Dr Fowlds and other specialists and is recovering well. Her face still bears the scars of her ordeal but she lives as an icon in the war against poaching.
All of us can make a difference in this war by spreading awareness and educating others; it is all of our responsibilities to protect these vulnerable creatures against the very real threat of extinction. There are several charities contributing to this cause, such as Wild Aid and United For Wildlife and we realise that we have a duty to continue championing this cause long after we return to our respective countries.
With the impact of Dr Fowlds’ talk still in our minds, we went on an evening game drive and were very privileged to see one of the youngest of the Eastern Cape's Rhinos, Siphiwe (Hope), up close and personal. Running around his mother we saw glimpses of his cheeky personality and playful nature!
The evening was rounded off by a talk from two members of the Reserve Protection Agency. They explained to us the future of conservancy; this includes endangered species such as Rhinos, Elephants, Amazonian Parrots and also illegal trading, loss of species’ habitats and the overuse of natural resources. We learned about the advancement of new technologies against poaching and for habitat maintenance. Hopefully these new techniques use such high-spec equipment and software that not even poachers funded by international organisations such as Al Qaeda will be able to breach these defences. We hope that with these new prototypes in use the future of rhinos like Siphiwe is secure for generations to come.
Shamanthi Shankar (Cambridge University, UK)
Barbara Ferreira (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Lisbon, Portugal)
Janessa Thompson (Iowa State University, USA)