Today was Rhino Day!
After a wake up at 4:30 and almost a 3-hour drive, we finally had the chance of doing some veterinary work with White Rhinos. Dr Fowlds, the worldwide known vet and expert in Rhinos, took us into an amazing reserve to dehorn 6 White Rhinos. Although this procedure is controversial at the moment, it is the best way to save some individuals from poaching. The most common reason for Rhino to be poached is for their horn, which is very valuable on the black market. The horn of a White Rhino can be sold for 45,000-60,000 Euros per kilogram, and when a horn can easily go up to 4 kgs or more, poachers can make almost 240,000 Euros. Because of this, many reserve owners are asking wildlife vets for dehorning services for their Rhinos especially if there is any poaching evidence in the reserves like unidentifiable footprints.
At the reserve, the Vets Go Wild students were divided into 3 teams, each one responsible for 2 animals. Dr Fowlds would dart one Rhino at a time from the helicopter, then the team would be in charge of caring for the animal. Some of the tasks that were done were monitoring the heart rate, breathing rate and temperature of the Rhino, administering drugs to deepen or lighten their level of anaesthesia, and collecting samples for DNA testing, including blood, hair and skin samples. Then Dr Fowlds was responsible for the dehorning. In the adults (over 7 years old), both of the horns were cut and in the subadults (2-7 years old), only the front horn was cut, leaving about 8 cm of the horn left on the Rhino. Each horn then had to be tagged with a microchip and correctly matched with the information about the respective Rhino.
It was a unique moment for all the Vets Go Wild students! After the emotional lecture Dr Fowlds gave us about Rhinos, this was definitely an unforgettable experience on the course.
So much so, we decided to take some photos to raise awareness, in particular, awareness for the campaign “Whose side are you on?” which was created by the United for Wildlife Group which promotes the idea of life over poaching. To help support this cause, you can send messages or Tweets to: #whosesideareyouon? Hopefully, it will help to get more attention for the Rhino crisis that is shocking the world of conservation!
In the afternoon we went onto another game drive! This time, the Elephants were the major attraction! We happened to run into Norman, the alpha bull of the elephant herd! We also saw some Kudu and Jackals! Between the Rhinos and the Elephants, we had a long, but amazing and exciting day!
Barbara Ferreira – Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Lisbon
Nicole Oldfather – Iowa State University, College of Veterinary Medicine