“Allow your passion to become your purpose, and it will one day become your profession.
Waking up to a cold, crisp morning, the songs of the birds and chirping of monkeys, is by far the best thing that can happen. It is called life in the bush. Today we are getting ready to dart, dehorn and relocate rhinos- for their own safety as well as genetic diversity. Why? Horn is seen as a mythical element in Asian culture; it is said to heal cancer, cure hangovers as well as common colds, it is used as a status symbol of wealth, it is called the new cocaine of the rich and it is worked into bracelets or carvings, while taking our rhino population to the brink of extinction. There are many initiatives to safeguard the future of the species anywhere in Africa, and it is crucial to look at every case individually and decide for the best option in each part of the continent, on each reserve and park affected by poaching.
The team is meeting up at the front gate, all wrapped up in warm jackets, gloves and beanies- yes winters in Africa can be chilly, you will even find snow in the mountains. Above us you can hear the helicopter, with our vet and his dart gun on board, making its way slowly over the hills and mountains to the heart of the reserve, looking for our gentle giants, the rhino. We are driving our Land Cruisers and the black beast of a Land Rover, with the teams standing on the back or squeezing into the rover, through dust clouds towards the flapping of rotors in the sky, straining to hear the conversation on the radio.
The sun is slowly warming the air as we finally reach the first darted rhino- a cow and her calf. Everyone jumps out, grabbing equipment as I sling my camera over my shoulder and take the eye cover with me to throw over the little one’s head. There are water canisters to cool the animals down, ropes, boxes full of medicine, syringes, antibiotic spray, white markers and the hustling and bustling begins.
Antibiotics, wound cleaning (scratches from the thorny bushes you will find almost anywhere in the african bushveld), DNA samples and taking the animal’s breathing are only some of the things each one of us is assigned to. I take photos. I document the tears running while we are cutting the horn off these majestic animals, the dust, the sweat on the guys’ faces while wrestling the rhino or lifting the chain saw or moving the grey giant from one side to the other with ropes.
Once everything is done, with the horn and shavings sealed away, we all race back to our bakkies (the afrikaans word for truck, commonly used by all of us), dragging the equipment with us while watching the vet giving the rhino the reversal drug to wake it up slowly.
The helicopter takes off again to find the next one, leaving us behind, in a cloud of red dust and cold air.
We end up working on a magnificent bull, wrestled down by our very own rhino wrangler Chris. What a stunning animal. The white dust, smelling of burnt hair and nails, flies into my face while I film the chainsaw cutting through his big, heavy horn. “You will be a lot safer now, my boy” is the thought running through my head.
Again we are all returning to our bakkies, watching the guys giving the reversal- the bull jumps up and our boys scatter like crows in all directions. He looks around, slightly stunned, moving his ears and trying to figure out where to run off to, while facing off with Gait-jan who stopped to watch him from a distance.
Covered in dust, celebrating a successful day, we are making our way from the shops to the rest camp where we start preparations for a typical bush braai with a lovely warming fire. As the sun goes down, the chill returns to the air and the night critters start their concert- one of them we will meet a little bit later- the elusive pangolin. A beautiful end to a day of making a plan to protect a species.