Last year we featured a story on the plight of Ukrainian brown bears living in harsh and cruel conditions. Bears that would under normal circumstances walk hundreds of kilometres daily are spending their entire lives in tiny cages on restaurant properties, subdued with alcohol or used as targets for dog-hunting. The animal welfare organisation, Four Paws International, has been assisting the Ukrainian authorities to secure freedom for these captives. During their negotiations, we came across the heartbreaking story of Nastia, a female brown bear cub held in a zoo. She had been forcibly removed from her mother at only a few weeks old. After being sold, ruthlessly stuffed into a box and taken away for a life of petting by zoo visitors, Four Paws International launched a worldwide rescue effort campaigning for such practices to be condemned. In our last instalment about Nastia, we showed the traumatised young bear being reunited with her mother. But the reunion was not a happy one. We once again visit the Ukraine to see if the bonds between mother and cub have been restored and if Nastia has indeed secured her freedom.
It turns out that rhinos are particularly susceptible to being anaesthetised. In comparison with other large mammals, which seem to emerge from the experience unscathed, rhinos go into severe respiratory depression when they are put under. In South Africa, wildlife managers have been immobilising rhinos for years, so there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence about which method works the best, but little scientific studies have been done. The only way to establish the safest form of anaesthesia is to replicate the conditions that existed before, repeat the different methods and compare the results. A team of ecologists, rangers and the best vets that modern veterinary science has to offer is conducting this vital investigation on wild rhinos right in the middle of the Kruger National Park. Eight rhinos are being darted and anaesthetised with a different combination of drugs and support procedures every two weeks. Their condition is monitored throughout the immobilisation so that all the results can be compared to find the method that has least effect on the animals. This is achieved by comparing the mammals’ real-time physiological responses to the various drugs. There are a lot of people interested in the results – the project is a massive collaboration between SANParks, the University of Witwatersrand and Pretoria and a number of international organisations. South Africa has always been a world leader in wild animal transportation and relocation so, as our rhino poaching crisis escalates, it’s fitting that we get to test for the least traumatic method to get our iconic mammal out of danger.
Gusts of trash
Alldays is little more than a one-horse town in the northern Limpopo, South Africa. Lying near one of the country’s border posts, the town’s claim to fame is little more than as a last outpost for tourists travelling to Botswana or visiting the game farms in the area. But small town or not, even Alldays needs proper dumping grounds. The wind blows the loose rubbish eastwards and into the bush. Blouberg Municipality doesn’t formally employ the two workers that ‘tidy’ the dumpsite and do not process the rubbish at all, leaving it to potentially taint the water supply or blow into game farms for consumption by the animals. This little town in due to expand with imminent mining developments, but what hope is there for environmental best practices if the municipality does not even have functioning dumping grounds now?
A lilac-breasted roller tenderises its meal, and a squirrel and a snake try to make a meal out of other feathered friends.