Sunday, June 27, 2010

So many amazing species on this planet

More pics later! The internet is just soooo slow here in the bush.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Broken horn

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.

Power girls!

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

Translocating antelopes

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

Mozambique, paradise!

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).

Rhino crisis in South Africa

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 assists 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 7-8 cm above the basis to make sure it does not bleed. The horn grows back in several years and the fact that it's not permanent, is great. On top of that, the precious endangered 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 method. As far as we know, it does not influence their natural behaviour and the stump can still act as a defence weapon. On top of that, dehorned rhinos have a good chance to survive fights (bruised, but okay) with each other. Rhino bulls with long horns are known to be able to kill other rhinos, both males and females. 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!