Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Going for a walk with a rhino

"Walking" a rhino is one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced in my life. During my internship in the Kruger NP as a vet student in 1997 I saw an incredible walk with a rhino for the first time and honestly could not believe my eyes. Okay, during these 2 impressive months I experienced more things I could not believe, e.g. capturing lions while listening to crying hyena's played by tape on top of the roof of a caravan. The fact that a human being can manipulate these large and dangerous animals such as rhinos, so that you can walk with them whereever you want sounds to weired to be true. But it works!
Just try to imagine.....working in the bush and you want to translocate a rhino to another area. After darting a wild animal always runs off. We have to track the animal to make sure we find it once it's down. Of course these huge animals not always don't fall asleep next to a road, but more often in thick bush (a safe place), far away from access for the truck or trailer. What do you do then? It's impossible to carry all these kilo's and you're quite in a rush to wake up this highly precious animal as soon as possible.... Pioneers in wildlife capture figured out a fantastic solution: you wake the rhino up just a little bit and let it walk itself: fantastic trick, not? The most important things are the blindfold, earplugs and of course a correct amount of 'partial antidote'. This means that the anesthetics drugs used to make (and keep!) the animal asleep only partially gets antagonised to make sure that it stays asleep deep enough! The situation can quickly get extremely dangerous if you confuse the partial antagonist with a full antagonist or when you for example give too much of it. A fully awake rhino does NOT wanna go for a walk with you, but just goes for you! So hang-overs or automatic pilot mood are not possible with this work. Once the animal slightly wakes up, it will stand up and 5 guys on a rope will pull it into the right direction. A rope on a hind leg is important as a brake. Sounds practical, not?