Saturday, September 25, 2010
Got such a nice present last week (experience every sight of a wild animal as a special present, as these animals decide to show themselves or not). I often visit the Kruger NP only for 2 hours or so, after work. Yes, I know, it's a luxery to live so close to the world most famous National Park. I was on my way back home, when I suddenly saw 2 hyena cubs next to the road. I stopped the car and saw their den only 2 meters from the road. To my big surprise suddenly a 3th cub came outside.......and a 4th.....and a very little 5th!! Spotted hyenas raise their cubs in a communal den, so several litters of different ages are living together. Amazing that they felt so comfortable and safe with my car that they all came out. They curiously investigated my car and stared at me. Could easily have touched them, but even a cute cub can damage you quite badly. Also really enjoy 'just' observing wild animals, without interfering with their natural behaviour. Wild animals are so amazing because they do not have any connection with human beings and we should keep it that way! No talking, waving or shouting. Just let them BE and just BE yourself. These moments together with wild animals are SO precious and beautiful! After 15 minutes of observing these cute, clever cubs exploring their world, I heard another car in the distance. Within seconds all cubs run back to their den and the show was over. Nothing to see anymore. The rest of the day lots of car will pass this den and these 5 gorgeous cubs without knowing, until they decide to come out again. That's the beauty of wild animals.
Roan antelopes are one of the most endangered antelopes in the world. We have one of the largest herds with approximately 140 individuals. Because they are originally not from this area they do not have a high immunity to a blood parasite Theilleria, transmitted by ticks. Therefore I dart each calf born at 3 weeks to vaccinate it with a specially made vaccin and to dip them with Frontline spray for ticks. This is collaborative study with the Veterinary Faculty at Onderstepoort to investigate the effect of different vaccins and it's planned that all results will be published. So far darted I 56 calves in the last 2 months, so it's a lot of work. Darting roan calves is challenging, as the mothers and calves are often very clever. The record was spending 4 afternoons in a tree to dart one(!) calf. Wow, what an amazing feeling to finally be able to get it! Yeah, how to explain I get paid by sitting in a tree all day, haha. Most calves I dart from horseback: working together with a horse is very special and different from riding 'just for fun'. Some horses even approach the antelopes as slowly as they can, when they know I am darting. They seem to understand what we're trying to do. Now I understand the special bond cowboys have with their horses.
The capture of wild animals is an amazing field! Trying out new immobilization methods and drugs is very exciting and each time different. My main goals in wildlife immobilization are 1) the safety and welfare of the animal (the least possible stress and physical disturbance) and 2) the safety and welfare of our team. Because mobile cranes are often not available in the bush, heavy African buffalos are most times carried on a stretcher by manpower. An average African buffalo bull weights around 800kg! Approximately 10-14 strong guys are needed to do this job. But wow, these big bulls are just too heavy to carry with manpower. Even a 6 month old calf is heavy already (see the face of the guys on the picture). So when I started this job and I was asked to move 12 adult African buffalo bulls I decided to walk them, exactly the same as a rhinoceroses (see earlier in this blog). Why not let these heavy animal walk into the truck themselves? More comfortable for both the team as well as the animal. Better for their wellbeing and muscles, as laying too long is not good for the blood circulation and the rumen. On top of that, it is always better to have the anesthetics as light as possible. To get a buffalo to walk, one must use a partial antidote for the opioid etorphine used to immobilize them. This antidote wakes the animal up, just a little bit: light enough to be able to walk and deep enough to keep the situation safe (don't forget African buffalos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa!). This technique has been used before with another partial antagonist diprenorphine, but the effect of the diprenorphine is often unpredictable. The animal tends to wake up too much, so this technique has not been widely used. Most wildlife vets still prefer to carry African buffalos on a stretcher for this reason. The success with using another, fairly new partial antagonist butorphanol was quite impressive. After successfully walking 109 buffalos (never needed a stretcher), I have learned a lot and now I know how much butorphanol I should give for the effect I want. Amazing to work with these powerful drugs and these powerful beautiful animals. Since we started to walk our buffalos when they have to move, the staff is happier to move buffalos. They are relaxed and quiet, which is crucial. At first they thought that I woke up these dangerous animals completely and they run for their lifes; a few times I was by myself pushing the buffalo in the trailer. Now everybody knows what I am doing (the buffalos are still sleeping!), it's a pleasure to walk a buffalo. Even all small calves walk themselves when they need to move, so no sore backs anymore. Last month an escaped adult buffalo bull was walking next to a railway line. Never a dull moment! Just after I darted him, two meter from the railway line, we heard the train coming... Scared that the bull was gonna fall asleep on the railway line, we quickly chased him into the bush. Luckily he fell asleep 20 meters further, just before the train passed. To be able to walk him to the trailer through the tick bush was very nice. We would neve have been able to get the trailer close enough to the animal to carry it inside. The manager of the farm was very happy when he was safely in the trailer, because this bull 'Butie' (brother) is his favorite.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Had again a very interesting day! To be honest, almost every day is exciting and interesting. Each morning waking up grateful to be able to work with such special animals and to take the challenge of immobilizing and treating them. This 2 year old rhino young bull was seen with a swollen eye with discharge for a month or so and it did not seem to improve. Also, his mother just got a new baby and rejected him, so he was unhappy and sad. White rhinos are so sensitive and social that they can be depressed for months when this happens. Sadly there are not other 2 year old weaners in this part of the park to join up with, so he must feel lonely, the poor boy. We decided to dart him to examin his eye to see how bad the injury was and whether there was something I could do for him to make his life a bit better. But...easier said than done. We drove to the spot where we saw him the day before. Because it was so hot (38 degrees or so) I decided to wait one day. Rhinos are very sensitive for heat, so it's better not to immobilize them in hot weather. Especially when wild animals are running in hot weather, the hyperthermia can even kill them. After a stunning hour drive in that area, through mountains, trees and hills, we saw him running around on his own. When he saw us, he took off! He clearly knew we were looking for him. Therefore I decided to track him on foot. The most important thing is to track him off wind, because rhinos do smell very well. On top of this, you must stand frozen still when he looks at you, because they only see movements. Together with silence, it's possible to approach a wild rhino at 20 meters or so. But...unfortunately not the clever and suspicious ones. Tracked and tracked him, walking as quiet as possible, but this boy run already at 50 meters, too far to dart him through the bush. As I did not like him running around too much, it was getting late (you never want to dart a wild animal later than 2 hour before dark, because you MUST always be able to find it when asleep) and it clearly was not that an emergency, I decided to try again the next morning. The next morning at 6.30 am he was quiet and standing under a tree. Was this the same animal as yesterday?? The swollen, closed left eye made it clear indeed. The darting was easy and it was nice cool. Five minutes after darting he fell into 'dog-sit' position: stretched frontlegs and sitting on his hindlegs. It is very bad for rhinos to sit like this, so I put the blind fold on and pushed him on one side. Luckily the trackers arrived to help me to push him back on his belly. Then I injected some respiration stimulans in his vene. This is a routine procedure in white rhinos, because they are very sensitive for etorphine (an opioid used for the immobilization), what causes respiration depression. I checked his ear venes, a good way to check the blood pressure, respiration rate and heart rate. When the anesthesia was steady I focused on his left eye. Flushed it with sterile Ringers fluids and found an old wound in the eye, likely caused by a thorn or horn: the iris, cornea and bulb were damaged and it had developed a lens catharact. Unfortunately this kind of severe eye damage are likely to be permanent. Will also send the picture to some eye specialised vets; maybe they are happy to do a lens extraction in this rhino? Often specialists are more than happy to take challenges what gets them into the field. Will see! I applied eye cream, systemic antibiotics and a painkiller. Unfortunately this was all I could do for him at this stage. Luckily rhinos don't use their eyes as much as we do and he should be able to have a fairly normal rhino life. I injected the full anti-dote in the ear vene. He woke up in 1.30 minute and walked away as if nothing happened. Let's hope he finds a friend soon!
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Rambo is a wonderful name for this little but strong white rhino baby! He was found wandering around alone, so his mother likely abandoned him. His tail was bitten of by predators, he was hungry, depressed and dehydrated. Not a good start in life. Luckily he was found just in time and he was still drinking. He never refused a bottle and can go into the Guinness Book of World Records for fast drinking: the 1L bottle with milk (made of foal milk powder) is finished in seconds. Raising a rhino baby sounds romantic, but is very hard work! In the beginning these babies need a bottle every 4 hours. And a rhino baby suckles for 2 years, so no, it's clearly not for everybody. But wow, how amazing to spend time with this special little boy!!
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Had one of the best weeks in my life. To be responsible for the capture of 24 white rhinos was an absolute dream. The more I learn about rhinos, the more and more I LOVE them. It's incredible that we are able to catch, transport and release such a huge and powerful animal. Especially white rhinos have such a gentle, sensitive nature, it's magic! Very fortunate to be able to work so closely with them. No words for it. The horrendous rhino poaching by a professional gang (182 rhinos poached in 2010!) must STOP NOW! How can people leave these innocent, precious, amazing animals wandering around without horn, but still alive? Sickening! Humanity is seriously ill: greed, greed, greed. Why don't people see that being RICH has nothing to do with money? Love (for the planet, all living beings and in all actions) is the only true value in human excistence. Just think about dying tomorrow? What was truely important? Please also see www.sabahrhinoproject.com. A project to save the most endangered rhino on the planet with only 50 individuals left. The Kruger Park success story (only 12 rhinos were left and now over 12.000 rhinos are living in the park), shows that it's not too late: this very special little hairy rhino can be saved from extinction! It took the planet billions of years to create all these amazing, fascinating species and it takes humanity only 100 years to get rid of them all. An interesting challenge to turn it around. Together with Obama: I believe WE CAN!
Friday, July 30, 2010
Because African buffalos are closely related to domestic livestock they can get infected with the same infectious diseases. Because wild animals do not need to produce 40 litres of milk a day or high quality beef, they are able to focus on the most natural goal in life: to stay healthy! Therefore they do not get ill from diseases what can make domestic cattle or goats very ill and sometimes even kill them. As we all know, most infectious diseases are devastating for a farmer. Because African buffalos can carry highly contagious and dangerous diseases without even showing a single symptom, it can be problematic to prevent them to transmit any diseases. Therefore the South African veterinary authorities decided to only allow African buffalos with the "disease free" status in areas where domestic livestock is kept. This is the complete country except the area of the Kruger NP, so the demand for these buffalos got so high that the price of these animals increased with the same speed. At a certain time a "disease free buffalo" was worth more than a white rhinoceroses, so it's worth the effort. Also it's important for the survival of the species to have enough disease free animals. Especially the long-term effects of e.g. Tuberculosis on the African buffalos in Kruger NP are worrying. To get the status 'disease free' an African buffalo has been tested negative 5 times for the following diseases: tuberculosis, brucellosis (both bacterials), Corridor's disease (a blood parasite) and fouth and mouth disease (a virus). For the Tuberculosis test each buffalo has to be darted twice: first to inject the tuberculin and second to measure the thickness of the skin (in a TB positive buffalo the skin swells up, the same as the Mantaux test in humans).
Monday, July 26, 2010
This is my friend Emilina from Mali. She is one of the strongest and creative woman I have ever met. For over 10 years she is working as an African buffalo keeper: physically heavy work, all day in the hot sun. Twelve days in a row, from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. and then 2 days off. She earns around 120 euros per month and lives in a shed next to the buffalos. She does not have children and does not know anybody in South Africa, except to her husband and 3 other colleagues. She never has time or money to do something next her work. Without social security and treated 'as a black woman in the conservative South African bush', which is far from good. That her life. When we see each other, she ALWAYS is charming, cheerful and truely interested. She manages to look like a lady with 'fashionable' old clothes, ear rings and many different hats. Of course I try to be there for her, but she is also there for me. Last week she gave me a bag full of avocados; I was not allowed to refuse. This woman has dignity! Lots of respect. The huge gap between our worlds (we don't even speak the same language) does not interfere with a connection from human to human, from heart to heart. We are friends!
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
South Africa has a serious rhino poaching crisis! The numbers of rhinos poached this year, is the worst ever. It's absurd that there is almost no attention for this problem in the worldwide media. In 2010 only, over 80 white rhinos have been poached by professional gangs to meet a growing demand for horns. People in South Africa are poor and need quick pocket money. Rhino horn is still used in many Chinese traditional medicine products and in Yemen as handles for traditional swords. Both markets are continiously growing, because more and more people can afford these expensive products: very worrying!! The horrendous poachers use helicopters and even veterinary immobilization drugs to dart the free-ranging rhinos instead of shooting them, to prevent making a noise. For the same reason they often leave the poor animal bleeding to death. Last week a rhino without a face was found wandering around in a reserve. The poachers had cut off the horn and the complete face with an electric saw. The animal was breathing through a hole in between its eyes. Sickening!! Horrible suffering what could easily have been avoided by a few gunshots. These actions make these poachers not just criminals, but barbaric! Who are these 'people'?? These professionals do their homework well and possible have connections in the South African political system: they know which reserves have rhinos, how many and which anti-poaching control is in place. The fact that you undertake strong anti-poaching actions assist to reduce the likelyhood to become a target. In regarding to the rapid speed the poaching increased over the last year, quick actions are crucial. De-horning rhinos seems to solve the problem short-term. When we de-horn a rhino as an anti-poaching method, we cut off the horn 8 cm above the basis to make sure it does not bleed. In only 2 years the complete horn has grown back, so the animal does not experience any long-term effect by removing it. The fact that it's not permanent, is great. On top of that, the precious animals really are much more safe! It's almost impossible to protect the large areas they live in, so to not having a horn at all seems to be the most effective anti-poaching action. As far as we know, it does not influence their natural behaviour and the stump can still act as a defence weapon. Rhinos also break their horns naturally in the wild, which grow back the same as de-horned ones. Okay, of course it's much nicer to see them with a horn, but don't you agree their lifes are more important? The immobilizations to de-horn a rhino takes a maximum of 10 minutes and the total time from darting to a fully awake rhino is approximately 18 minutes. That's IT! After these 10 minutes of 'tripping' with a drugs 10.000 times stronger than Morphine (don't tell me that's suffering!), they are up in their feet and 100% awake as if nothing ever happened. Each time I de-horn a rhino, I am happy to be able to make a contribution to the safety of this ancient amazing animal. These species are soooo much longer on this planet than human beings and we MUST protect them from going extinct!
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Yesterday had a challenging day. One of my patients, a 2 year old white rhinoceroses, was looking wobbly and lethargic. I have been treating her already for 3 weeks, because of a broken horn. She had been improving well, but now she suddenly was going down hill. I had to give her some treatments as soon as possible. A wild animal always tries to hide any weaknesses, so when they start to show any clinical symptoms, it's always an emergency.
The darting was challenging as her companion, a 3 year old bull, kept on running and she followed him everywhere. Also, he run into my direction once; luckily I can run! Therefore had to approach them 'walking as a soldier', not making any noise and standing still when they looked into my direction. Always really enjoy this part of the job. Finally I could shoot her into her left shoulder. After 6 minutes she was deep enough asleep to chase away the bull, while she stayed behind. That can be quite dangerous, but he left after we made noise and threw some branches. Then I approached her from behind and put a blindfold over her eyes and ear plugs into her ears. Then she went down and her anaesthetics were surprisingly nice and steady for a whole hour. I was able to give her plenty of IV fluids (15L) through 3 different lines, antibiotics and anti-inflammation. We also washed the wounds which were healing well and put antibiotics cream on it. I also felt that the horn was healing well. At the end of the procedure, I noticed her ears moving, a clear sign that she was getting very light. I did not wanna top up the drugs, because she had been sleeping for over an hour. Decided to wake her up. First I removed all catheters, then I gave the antidiote IV and then I removed the earplugs and blindfold. She took off immediately, clearly feeling much better! Let's keep our fingers crossed that she's going to be okay.
Last week in Kruger NP, I met these beautiful 2 spotted hyenas. They stayed next to my car and were completely comfortable: a lovely present! I love hyenas, both the brown and the more common spotted hyena. Hyenas don't have a very good reputation. Why is not really clear to me, because these animals are one of the most fascinating creatures ever. They live in complex societies and are highly intelligent. Especially women must love this species! The social structure of hyenas is dominated by the females: these power girls are bigger and stronger than the males, so that they can get more food for themselves and their offspring in their competitive society. This practical fact to increase the survival rate of young cubs makes you wonder why not more animal species have life organized this way. I personally am happy that this is not the case in humans (no beard please!): studies have shown that female hyenas have high levels of testosterone in their blood. This makes them having this masculine appearance, including a very large clitoris looking like a penis.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Had such a good time last week! Was on horse back all day from 7 in the morning till around 3 in the afternoon to dart sable and roan antelopes: wow these animals are so beautiful! Roan and sable antelopes are a different species, but closely related: a kind of cousins. Roan antelopes are a bit bigger and light in color, while the sable antelopes are almost black. Males and females of both species have these world famous, magnificent horns: the name 'sable antelope' says enough.
We had to translocate all 2 year old males from the family herds into a 'Bachelors camp' (a total of 24) just before they reached sexually maturity. The dominant bulls of each herd would for sure start fighting with the grown up bulls to make sure that his genes will continue to spread. In the wild, young bulls naturally leave the herd and join up with other bulls or live solitary, until they are old enough the challenge a dominant bull. Often older bulls guide the younger ones into their new lifes without mum; the same happens for many species, including elephants. It seems that they somehow remember their own difficult times just thrown out of the safe herd and how grateful they were with their 'big uncle'.
Darting these antelopes can be tricky, especially when they are running like mad. Somehow wild animals do not distinguish 'a human being and a horse'. When we approach them on horseback, we are just a weired lump on the back of the horse. It works amazingly well! When the herd is too wild to even approach with a horse, I hide myself in a tree and wait.... This is the weirdest thing ever: I am sitting in a tree, the antelopes look up, clearly SEE me, stare at me for around a minute to figure out what I am...and then continue to graze as if nothing happened! They are not able to distuinghish 'a human being and a tree'. I am just a weired type of fruit or so? Depending on the temperament of the herd, the darting is easy or difficult. Twenty-four in a week is not a bad number. All young bulls are safe now, which is the most important, because dominant bulls sometimes even kill competitors. In the bachelor herds, all bulls live happily in peace together, as long as there are no 'hot chicks' around (hmm, quite recognisable, not?). So it's important to keep all mature females at a safe distance!
Working together with this team of 4 game guards and Vusie my assistant always is a pleasure. We're having good laughs whenever possible, but during the work everybody is serious. It´s inspiring how these people, with very challenging, though lifes, are able to keep such a positive cheerful spirit. I have been trying to practise some Zulu, but wow, these 'clicks' were impossible to pronounce: a good reason for a lot of laughs! Just love Africa.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Just wanna share some pics from Mozambique: what a paradise! Luckily living just 20 minutes from the border with this stunning country. Inspiring how fast the Mozambicans built up their devastated country again so soon. In 1992, the horrendous Mozambican Civil War, started in 1977, finally stopped. The complete country was ruined, no roads, no infra-structure and more than 900.000 people died and 5 milion people were displaced. In 1994 the first multi-party elections were held.
This horrible history is hard to imagine now, while travelling in a stunning country and meeting so many friendly, loving smiles on your way (actually never visited a country with such sincerely sweet people). Over the last 16 years Mozambique has been working hard to turn into a wonderful holiday destination. Also, lots of wildlife species have been translocated to Mozambique from South Africa. Most reserves were 'poached' empty during the Civil War, but over the last years many land owners are importing all kind of wildlife species, which is wonderful. One of the highlights in nature conservation was the union of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park in Mozambique with the Kruger National Park in South Africa. The fench has been complete removed, so all wildlife can move freely to Mozambique (no passport needed). Unfortunately the poaching is still a big problem in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world, and the wild animals know this. So up to now, most animals stay on the Kruger NP side. Hopefully over time, more and more animals will slowly move to the Mozambican side by seeing other animals being happy there (a bit like people attracting other people in an empty restaurant).