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Yvonne and Rocco Gioia, owners of the Elandela Private Game Reserve near Hoedspruit, looked about anxiously as ‘Precious’ was treated. She is the third rhino to receive medical care out of the four that were injured during an unsuccessful poaching attempt some weeks ago.

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It is important to monitor a rhino’s body temperature during times of stress, so water was used to keep Precious cool. She was shot behind the shoulder, where the bullet pierced her body below the spinal column. Wildlife veterinarian Dr Peter Rodgers used a catheter to rinse the wound and check for infection. He was relieved when the tube went through easily without obstruction, indicating that the bullet’s path was clean and uncomplicated. Miraculously, her injuries were not serious and treatment with antibiotics should suffice for a full recovery To be on the safe side, Precious will be monitored during the weeks to come.

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The story of Escape

After Precious had been cared for, helicopter pilot Benjamin Osmers skilfully directed the chopper towards the fourth and last rhino, Escape. She is a ‘special case’, not only because her wounds were known to be the most serious, but also because she had been shot once before. In 2011, Escape had taken a bullet in the thigh during a brutal incident which resulted in a young rhino being orphaned. Understandably, she fought hard with every ounce of her strength to resist the sedative dart, but eventually she surrendered to the anaesthetic, allowing the teams to treat her.

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Once more, the injury was just under the spinal cord, but the bullet had not travelled straight this time and so the pathway for the cleansing fluid was more difficult to manage. The wound looked angrier than the others we had seen and we could tell from Roger’s frown that he wasn’t happy. After a few attempts, the fluid travelled along the bullet’s trajectory and a fountain of liquid exited on the other side of the spine, indicating that the bullet probably wasn’t still lodged inside Escape’s body. The X-ray team stepped in to be absolutely certain. Rogers was able to administer a heavy dose of painkiller and antibiotics before applying the antidote that saw Escape back on her feet in two minutes, giving us enough time to head to the safety of our vehicles. Fortunately, Premier, one of the other rhinos that had been shot, did not need medical attention as the bullet had travelled straight through his ear lobe. After initial care, his wound will heal naturally.

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Treatment logistics

All four rhinos will be assessed visually on a daily basis to track their progress, while the team prepares for the next round of treatments. The procedures took place on 26 May and were carried out with military precision taking no more than 25 minutes to complete each session. The required logistics and planning for this level of co-operative expertise is a reflection of the passion and concern of the many people who have converged in aid of the injured animals.

For this degree of care to be possible, it requires organising flights, car hire, medical equipment, professional time, accommodation and many hours of administration. We thank all donors and hope you feel as much part of these procedures as those who are at the rhinos’ side.

Special thanks to Investec Rhino Lifeline, Chipembere Rhino Foundation, Forever Wild – Rhino Protection Initiative and Elandela Rhino Survivor Trust.

Ndumu River Lodge
Natalia Flemming

Running free in the wild may be simply a dream for many in today’s constraining world. In my case, the quest for ‘mamofa’ country (miles and miles of f*** all, as once aptly expressed by an exploration geochemist from the University of Cape Town) has become an integral cornerstone of everyday life which I’ve had the fortune to nurture both above and below water, on snow-covered mountain slopes and desert dunes, along forested fjords and in the dry bushveld. On my journeys I have enjoyed the occasional company of snakes, parrotfish and giant fruit bats and have always shared my adventures with good friends or fellow long- and snowboarders. Born in Cape Town, raised in Germany and Switzerland, and travelling in Namibia and South Africa during lengthy visits to family and childhood friends, I can converse with humans in four languages (English, German, French, Italian) but the language of the wild remains elusive. It is for this reason that I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been accepted as an intern at Africa Geographic in Cape Town. This extramural practical forms part of my studies in International Journalism at the University of Bremen, northern Germany. When I’m not out and about, you can find and visit me on my blog: framedbynataliaflemming.wordpress.com