Saturday, December 19, 2009

Rhinos on the move

Moving large and dangerous animals like white rhinos from one place to another is quite a challenge. Safety for both these highly endangered and special animals as well as all the people around is crucial during this procedure, as they can hurt themselves and us quite badly! Strangely white rhinos are very sensitive for the commonly used 'big game' drug Etorphine. An adult female only needs 0.35 ml while for example a much smaller adult sable bull needs around 0.8ml to get immobilised. They are also known to get respiration depression quickly. Luckily there are very good drugs available to make the narcosis as safe as possible. Five subadult white rhinos had to be transported to another game farm close to Pretoria. Before they could leave here, they had to be in quarantine for one month to make sure that they did not transport any diseases to another part of South Africa. So...first they had to be caught in this 8.000 hectare area. Each rhino was darted with a dart with Etorphine and Stresnil. After they went down (approximately 5 minutes after darting) we could approach them. Never stand in front of the head, even while you think a rhino is asleep, because the power of even the smallest movement of head and horn are amazing (this says a lot about its power when he's awake!). The first thing we did was to apply cottonwool in the ears and a blindfold around the head to keep the animals as relaxed as possible. Each wild animal knows that human voices mean danger, so everybody has to be as quiet as possible to avoid extra stress. Then we drilled a hole in the horn to apply a microchip (the same as what we use in dogs and cats) and we aplied a chip behind the ears. A microchip makes it possible to identify the horn and the rhino. This possibility to track down an illegally traded rhino horn, makes this rhino much less attractive for poachers. Then we went for 'a walk with a rhino'. To be able to 'walk' the rhino to the crate we applied a rope on the head to 'pull' the animal in the correct direction and a rope around one hind leg what acts as a brake (it works, really!). When the whole team was ready for some action, I gave a partial anti-dote to wake up the rhino just a little bit. Just enough for the animal to be able to stand up and walk to the crate. This is the tricky bit, because you do not wanna 'walk' with a fully awake white rhino! Everything went well and when each rhino was in the crate a gave the full antagonist to let the animal wake up completely. I also gave a safe long-acting sedation to make the animal more relaxed for the coming 3 days while getting used to the quarantine. And yes, close up they are even more cute, special and amazing! More later, must go now. Happy Christmas everybody!

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