Mar 25, 2010

Big, Black and Beautiful

By the book baby season is meant to draw to a close at the end of February (as should have the rainy season) but as is life – nothing ever goes according to the book.
Our rain seems to be arriving late this year and we can only hope that we will receive what we need to carry us through what was beginning to look like a very dry year.

The next item on the list of things that did not seem to be abiding by the book is….
Can you guess? Nope, try again….. getting closer…. Oh, ok I’ll tell you….

A baby BLACK rhino

At 4 weeks old she arrived on the 21 February 2010 which fell on the last Sunday of the month. For those of you who have not yet joined our volunteer program. Sundays are usually quite days where everyone can relax a little and take a break from all the hard work. The guides usually get things done on the farm that they cannot get to during the week when busy with tours or a catching up on studies. Nothing is usually planned for a Sunday in terms of activities… except when the unexpected happens!

We received a call from a nearby Game Park to say that they had received reports from visitors that there was a rhino calf stuck in a mud wallow. After further investigation they discovered that it was in fact a Black Rhino. Usually the protocol in parks such as these is to maintain a natural system and allow things to occur as they would in the wild; however after much deliberation it was decided that they would step in and rescue the calf. She had been stranded for 2 days and her mother had given up and abandoned her. She was on her last legs.

Brian sent through 2 guides and our volunteer vet nurse immediately to collect the precious cargo. On arrival the vet nurse assessed the situation and spoke to the vet on site – this baby was in a desperate condition. To add to the ordeal she had just suffered she had chronic diarrhoea and had scraped her back right leg severely whilst struggling to free herself from the mud’s suffocating grip.

She was rushed back to the Rehab Centre. Shy of her new surroundings, Brian and Natalie coaxed her tentatively out from the vehicle and she was lead into the clinic room which had been made ready for her. Treatment began immediately and after days of liquid faeces streaming down her legs the medication took affect.

Now her bowel movements are almost normal and her leg has all but healed! Her rhino mommies take her outside during the day to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air and she loves nothing more than bolting after her minders as they run huge loops around the garden. Somehow this has no effect on her energy limits and she stands waiting impatiently after her relay partner has slummed into an exhausted heap!

We have missed having a rhino prancing through the rehab grounds. Having a rhino of a different species is wonderful and we are all learning the subtle differences in behavior and antics. We are hoping that the black rhino calf’s natural instinct to follow behind will make leading her away from tempting distractions slightly easier. The differences are tallying up but certain things remain the same across the board. A huge appetite and a growing thirst accompanied by pleading whistles and bumping reminders at meal times is something that seems to be consistent with rhinos no matter if they’re black or white.

We are lucky enough to be able to help this one baby, but she is a small drop in a very large ocean when we look at the challenges that are being faced in rhino conservation. All 5 species of rhinos are close to extinction. The White Rhino has rebounded and is now listed as Vulnerable. The Black Rhino has not been as fortunate and is still listed as Endangered.
Since the 1960’s the black rhinos’ numbers have dropped from an estimated 100 000 to a pitiful 3000. The cause of the decline is not the same reason as it is for many of our threatened mammals. Although habitat loss does play a large part, the high demand for Rhino Horn on the Black Market is the major reason!  In certain cultures it is believed that Rhino horn can be used to cure a number of ailments such as typhoid, fever and even snakebites. We are quick to turn around and points fingers and claim that it is due to Rhino horns being used in traditional Asian medicines, this does play a part but one must remember that Asia used rhino horns for 1000’s of years for traditional healing without threatening the species’ survival. However demands for items such as ornate dagger handles carved from Rhino horns (which indicate status and wealth and the demand for which grew with the increase in oil sales) have greatly affected the trade.
The trade of rhino horns has been banned but the black market is still thriving! In 1990 the pair of horns from a Black Rhino were being sold for a whopping $50 000.00  - at this price how do we expect a poor local inhabitant to resist?
Syndicates are no longer primitive in their methods. Lately they have been pulling out the big guns – swooping down in helicopters, darting with anesthetic. People who are entrusted to serve and protect our animals are jumping in on the band wagon which is rolling towards the jackpot and stringing along the demise of these archaic looking animals in their wake!

In some areas officials are taking drastic steps to save the lives of their charges. Rhinos are being darted and their horns are sawn off. This may seem barbaric to some and the affects of this are not really known. The one obvious downfall is that the rhino is loosing a valuable weapon on self-defense. But these creatures are fighting a battle where they are up against enemies and predators whose tactics are more highly evolved. By removing the one main item of value the spot light is detracted from this treasure.

What do we do??? How do we prevent this once seemingly indestructible creature from teetering over the edge of extinction?

Mar 23, 2010

Two for Tea???

A few days ago Brian was told about a very full and lethargic, python which was discovered nearby. After being informed Brian set off to investigate. Wondering what on earth this sneaky character had ingested.

On arrival Brian was pointed to the direction of where the python was last sighted – a guinea pig hutch. A quick scan revealed the python’s hiding place. The python had gorged itself on not just one but TWO adult guinea pigs and was looking rather uncomfortable as he settled in to digest the two large bulges in its body.
Quietly and slowly Brian approached the python. As the python had chosen a quiet, out of the way spot to rest whilst it worked its catch through its stomach Brian decided to cover it up and leave it be. Pythons are rather lethargic after partaking in a meal and to allow them to escape quickly from danger they will bring up their food and obviously Brian did not want this to happen.

Pythons are not the only creatures who have this escape mechanism – vultures are also known to regurgitate their food. By lightening their “load” it allows them to make a speedy get away if they feel threatened. Brian will give the python some space of about 2 weeks to finish digesting its rather large meal then the scaly scoundrel will be captured and released far away on a game farm.

Often pythons are persecuted as they fall into the serpent category. They hold value in traditional practices and are also culprits in raiding farmers’ livestock pens. Python skin has also become a popular choice for leather accessories. This along with a dwindling choice of habitat has placed the African Rock Python on the growing list of Vulnerable animals.

Mar 2, 2010

Moholoholo Animal Rehab's happy snappy crocodiles

On the 5th March 2009 we received a batch of crocodile hatchlings, teeny enough to fit into the palm of
your hand! These little snipper snappers came from a farm that bred crocodile and were only allowed to
keep a certain number of them. Having reached their capacity the crocs needed to find a new home. As they were not able to move around freely, as they could do in the wild, a Croc parent was allocated. During their stay here the crocs have had many different parents who have been fortunate enough to watch them grow as they have! Don’t get me wrong! There is plenty of stretch left in their skin and these babies are set to grow to a remarkable size! Daily these leathery skinned juveniles were moved to their various different enclosures, indoors with a heater and small pool of water when it was miserable outside or during the evening, or outdoors to do what crocodiles do best: - bask in the sunshine, recharging their batteries and digesting their food. Ahhh it is a croc’s life!

Their weight is recorded on a regular basis to ensure that no-one is being left behind in the growth spurt to adulthood. Having started off at 50.5g (the lightest) and 77g (the heaviest) they now weigh a whopping 470g and 1110g! When they were first brought in their diet consisted of grasshoppers but soon this was not enough to still their jaw snapping appetite! Besides their tasty chicks, today the crocs were in for an even bigger treat!!!! They were being upgraded to a luxury hotel suite! The dassies that had been living in what was originally meant to be the crocodile pen had been relocated to their new home (another story for another day) and now we were able to get in there and scrub it up so that it would be fit for its reptilian inhabitants. The students scrubbed and raked and carted sand until finally it was ready!!!

The time came to introduce the crew to their new snappy home and one by one their parent of the moment – Benoit – released them into the pool. We all watched eagerly as they swished their way effortlessly through the water, getting the hang of floating in the special way that crocodiles do. (They inflate special air pockets in their sides which allow them to float horizontally in the water with little effort. By special regulation they can drop straight to the floor and stay down perfectly without trying not to bob back up) It is taking a bit of practice as they seem to be standing on the floor sticking their nostrils out to breath but one or two seem to be catching on and soon they will be expert divers! The crocs will now not have to be moved from enclosure to enclosure as they will be able to spend all the day and night in their new abode and will have even more space to practice their stroke.
 The greatest problem we face is where to release crocodiles where they will be accepted and where most of all, they will be safe. Many of the rivers that these reptilian creatures inhabit are thick with unnaturally warmed waters, pollutants and chemical cocktails. Over 1000 crocodiles have died in a couple of the rivers that flow through the park. These pollutants are pumped into the rivers as a result of coal mining, agriculture, cattle farming and industry. All these facets require water to continue and once they are done their waste is returned to the river either by intentionally pumping it back in or through surface erosion which washes chemicals and refuse into the nearby water systems. Nearby homelands are also culprits in polluting the rivers as they seem an ideal waste removal system or Laundromat. The odds seem to be stacked high against these ancient leathery skinned creatures and the last straw seems to have passed them by leaving them with what seems to be a very bleak future. The bird life has also noticeably decreased in the surrounds. Decrease in numbers of other smaller animals such as terrapin and water leguaans that are dependent on these rivers have also dropped remarkably. It seems that as our demands increase we seal the fate of these doomed creatures.