Ranger injured, orphaned rhino calf rescued

2009-07-29 00:00

A WHITE rhino mother had to be humanely put down by a veterinarian yesterday after she was wounded at Tembe Elephant Park, on Monday night, when game rangers were forced to shoot her in self defence.

But the baby calf the rhino had been so desperate to protect was eventually tracked down by rangers late yesterday afternoon and, by about 6 pm, was en route to a boma at Imfolozi-Hluhluwe game reserve, the only Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife game reserve with the facilities to look after orphaned rhinos.

Meanwhile a field ranger, Tulani Mabika, who was injured in the skirmish with the mother rhino, was not in any danger yesterday, according to EKZNW media liaison officer Jeff Gaisford.

Mabika was trampled by the charging animal and suffered severe bruising and shock. Gaisford said the drama unfol­ded when an anti-poaching patrol stumbled upon the rhino mother and her calf in the dark. She immediately reacted by attacking the rangers to protect her baby.

“She managed to get one of the rangers under foot and gave him a good pummelling. Fortunately, he was not gored by the rhino’s horn,” he said. Colleagues were forced to fire at the charging animal in order to save lives, he said.

“It’s something that rangers hate to have to do, but there was no alternative in this instance. “It highlights the dangers that these men face out of love for our wildlife. They put their lives on the line,” he said.

EKZNW has already lost 13 rhino, including a black rhino, to poachers in its protected areas this year. Two other white rhino were poached on private land near Empangeni. Gaisford said the baby rhino stands at thigh height and is thought to be about six months old. EKZNW veterinarian Dave Coo­per, who was involved in the rescue effort, reported “quite a lot of fun and games”.

Rangers had to herd the calf for a distance of about a kilometre, from the spot where it was found to the crate and truck waiting, to transport it to its new home. The fate of the animal still hangs in the balance.

The major killer of rhino calves is stress. It will also be crucial to see if it will begin to feed or not. Gaisford said the calf will have company in the form of another young orphan from Phinda game reserve already at Imfolozi-Hluhluwe.

“The mother rhino died of natural causes in Phinda and the calf was brought to Imfolozi. “If the two can bond, it gives them a much better chance,” he said. Gaisford said raising orphaned rhinos is no easy task and requires two devoted staff members to tend to their needs virtually day and night. “They have to be fed regularly and are extremely demanding.”

Meanwhile, four men and a woman of Chinese origin appeared briefly in the Babanango Magistrate’s Court yesterday following their arrest inside Opathe game reserve near Ulundi — not open to the public — earlier this week. They were arrested for travelling illegally in the reserve. They were not asked to plead to any charges and the case was postponed until today pending further investigations.

They are Pingquan Ni (37), Shuiwang Wu (37), Daxin Zhang (42), Xiufu Lin (32), and a woman, Meixia Zhu (26). All are from Ulundi. The Witness reported yesterday that South Africa’s best-known white rhino, Toliwe, who had been living in Mount Savannah nature reserve, has become the latest victim of poachers.

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