Rhino calf saved by getting stuck in tree

Johannesburg - A 3-week old white rhino calf was trapped for at least eight hours in the fork of a young thorn tree after its mother, named Alpha, was shot by poachers on a game farm in Assen, near Pretoria.

The calf blindly ran away from the poachers after one of them slashed it over its head with a panga.

The calf ran helter-skelter into a bush a few metres away from where the poachers had shot the cow in her heart and head, and ended up with his head trapped in the V-shaped fork of a young tree.

In its desperate attempts to escape the calf had pawed deep grooves in the ground around the tree and had rubbed its neck raw against the trunks - causing his head to swell up.

A rhino cannot move backwards.

The owner, Neels van Rensburg, said when he arrived at the carcass of the cow, the pitiful bleats of the calf was all one could hear.

Alpha was one of the first rhinos that Van Rensburg bought. He said the poachers would have killed the calf as well, if the tree did not trap its head.

Poachers usually shoot the calves because they keep trying to nuzzle the dead cow while the poachers cut off the rhino horn.

"I heard the little one cry, I saw it was trapped and was hurting, but I could not do anything until the vet arrived,” Van Rensburg said.

Doctor Louis Greef, a veterinarian from Thabazimbi, two helpers and a game ranger calmed the calf by plugging its ears and putting a blindfold over its eyes.

It took half an hour to lift its head free from the fork.

After it was freed, the calf was put on a drip and loaded onto a trailer.

Greef, who specialises in game in the Limpopo province, said he has since May received a call about a rhino that had been shot every four days. About a month ago another white rhino cow and her calf was also killed on Van Rensburg’s farm.

"Few people get so angry at the poachers like we do who work on the scene. It does not help that the poachers get caught, because they walk free.

"They must be shot and killed.People out there do not know what is happening. It is chaos and it will not end," said Greef.

Van Rensburg suspects the poachers are part of a group of six who were caught earlier on his farm. Two of the men were linked to rhino poaching in Limpopo, but four were released.
Greef and Van Rensburg agree that the police should dedicate a team to investigate all cases of rhino poaching.

Greef said there is no co-ordination between case.

"These rhinos are like children to me. Other people smoke, use drugs or fish. I have rhinos," said Van Rensburg.

"Only last night [Monday evening] this cow and her calf came to eat lucerne at my house while I sat on the stoep.

"Unfortunately I may not cut off the nose of the donder [poacher] or kill him."
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