Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Three days ago I got called about a sad case. A 4 weeks old rhino calf was found very ill and could not stand up anymore. The mother was standing next to him to defend him, as a good mother is supposed to do. I was asked to have a look and to make a decision about the best option for the calf. When a young animal is too ill to follow its mother it's better to hand-raise it to give it all essential care. This is impossible in the wild.
Because you never know what you're gonna find, it's important to bring all drugs and equipment into the field you can think of. Our clinic is often hours away. The calf could be in shock or have a broken leg. So I loaded my rifles, darts, drugs, surgery equipment, lots of IV fluids and medicine and wound treatment boxes into my jeep and I drove to the prive wildpark, where rangers were waiting for me. They guided me to the place where the calf was laying down, a 30 minutes drive through the reserve. Giraffes, zebras and warthogs looked up when we passed. Then they said to stop. We got out of the car and walked into the bush. I saw an adult rhino standing in thick bush, around 30 meters away from us. Before I could have a look at the calf, she charged us. She run off and as a big suprise the little calf followed her: walking! Wobbly, but walking! We saw a big wound on its flank with a lot of flies around it, so it was clear that we had to treat this today. Especially IV fluids are crucial, as young animals dehydrate quickly in hot weather like this. A calf must always stay with the mother when possible, so when I saw the calf was walking I decided to keep the calf with his mum. Hand-raising a rhino calf is extremely challenging and very stressful for the calf. Only a last option. Luckily this rhino cow was calm and very caring: this calf had the best chances in the wild.
I made two darts with etorphine (10.000 morphine). One for the mother and one (less than one drop) for the calf. First a darted the mother. A nice shot in the hindquarters. I always wait around 3 minutes before darting the calf, so that mother is affected before the calf gets affected by the drugs. It's essential to be able to get to the patient as soon as possible and an awake rhino mother would never allow us! The little baby stoot next to his mum and I could easily dart him on foot. When the mother went down, he stood calmly next to his mothers head. I approached the adult rhino, put a blindfold over her eyes and removed the dart. The little baby was just standing there, half asleep. This scenario was perfect, because now I could monitor the anesthesia (breathing) of both animals! When he fell down, I had all treatments ready. We made some shade and used lots of water to keep both rhinos cool in the hot African sun. I gave him IV fluids and cleaned the terrible wound full with maggots. Two ribs were visible! He also had some other smaller wounds, so he clearly had been attacked by another animal.
After having treated the wound and given him 3L glucose 5% IV, antibiotics, a painkiller, vitamins and anti-parasitic treatment I woke them up together. This was the most amazing experience: the calf run to his mother and started drinking straight away. You saw the milk running next to his mouth. I felt very happy with the decision to keep him in the wild.
It's now almost 3 weeks ago. The wound is healing and the calf is doing very well. Can't express how happy this makes me!
Thursday, February 9, 2012
To arrive at a rhino carcass killed for its horn is one the most awful experiences in my life. As a wildlife vet we are regularly consulted to assist with the post mortem of these animals. Thorough forensic research is extremely important to get as much evidence and information about the crime as possible. This will assist in tracking down these criminals, but also to be able to convict them of the crime once they are caught.
The white rhino on these pictures was always grazing around my house. Many friends and family have seen this fantastic animal. I was attached to this friendly young bull. This useless kill brings the poaching very close. Killed for something silly as a piece of horn. I keep repeating myself: it's just HAIR. I will also add a picture I made of a horn what naturally broke off. You can see it's a huge rasta, nothing more!!
In 2011 448 rhinos were killed in South Africa for its horn. Mainly to be used in traditional medicines in Asia (China, Vietnam, Thailand), but also as dagger handles in Jemen. In 2012 already 33 were killed. The poaching is going on at a large scale, with no idea how it's ever gonna stop. The Asian rhinos are suffering even much more. One species was declared extinct last year, the Javan rhino. Tremendously sad to see magnificent species disappearing forever. Do we have to wait until the other species are gone too?? Raising awareness is a great tool: rhino horn does NOT contain any healing capacities! But educating is going to slow. There is no time left and the world population, especially in Asia, is growing rapidly. They all want to get old and stay healthy. Some people have these beliefs and traditions for thousands of years. On top that there is always a 'placebo effect': if a person really believes something silly works, there is a chance that this person somehow will feel better afterwards. Or better put: that person is thinking that he/she is feeling better. Ever tried to convince one person to change such deep beliefs??? You know what I mean.
More about this complicated subject later!