To Catch a Rhino
By Manny Carrasco
Everything is prepared for what seems to be an exciting and crucial day. Three teams of trucks loaded with equipment and people who have a passion to help an endangered animal. The chopper is fueled and in it will be flying the two head vets, Dr. Keith Dutlow and Dr. Lisa Marabini along with an experienced wildlife chopper pilot. We are accompanied by several rangers. They will be key at finding all of the rhinos in the bush and making sure we don’t get lost.
In the early morning a call on the radio tells us the chopper has a rhino in site. Everyone here on the team has a task and responsibility; efficiency and teamwork is a must. We have a window of time because the vets do not want the rhino under sedation too long as this can cause dangerous complications for any animal. The chopper pilot informs us the first rhino is darted and we, the ground team, are on the way.
In the lead car is an experienced animal handler. He will be the first to approach and make sure the animal is sedated properly and blind it by covering it’s eyes. The chopper has dropped off the vets just seconds prior. The rhino is massive. Being an artist and illustrator I cannot help to take mental notes on its anatomy and detail. Oxygen is placed and the work starts. The best way I can explain the efficiency of the team is a pit crew at a race car event. The rhino is monitored as blood samples are taken and the procedure of dehorning starts. Carefully Dr. Dutlow marks a line he will follow as he cuts. It’s quite a sight experiencing this. The reality that this has to be done is sad. Every measure is taken to make sure the animal is safe. The rhino horn is off and all the horn shavings are picked up using a canvas placed underneath. The horn is microchipped, scanned and placed in a numbered bag. I paint a giant yellow number on the rhinos rear to help in identifying it from the air. This more makes me think of the race car analogy. Dr Marabini now injects the reversal, dart hole sprayed with medication and we are off. Quickly! A couple of seconds and the enormous beast is up and looking around. Dr Keith stays behind observing and making sure the animal is walking fine and safe. The vets attention to detail amazed me. As the animal is sitting from the sedation, they have to make sure it sits right and lays right. If it’s legs are in the wrong position it could be a disaster. It’s own body weight can dislocate a joint. There have been times a team of us had to push an animal up to reposition it’s legs. This is when I realized the size and sheer weight. There must have been at least 12 men trying to push.
The first rhino has now walked away and is healthy but hornless. It’s sad but it’s the reality. Poachers have no interest and so far the plan of dehorning is working.
I’m in Africa, a place that I dreamt of visiting all my life and now I’m here. Not just a vacation but on a rhino operation. Hopefully making a difference in trying to save these magnificent animals.