We met up with the vet on one of the main dirt roads for tea and biscuits while simultaneously getting a debrief on how they’ll be sedating the two rhino expected to be found that morning. While that was happening, we were trying our best to get warm and concentrate on what he was saying with the sound of a cowboy chopper pilot coming in for a dusty landing.
Once the first target had been spotted, we raced through the dirt waiting for the signal from the chopper. He had found a female calf, still with its mother. It’s a fascinating process to be a part of. To follow every step in its entirety was amazing. Once the calf had been darted, it takes approximately eight minutes for her to slow down and come to a complete halt but the risk was that the mother was still in the vicinity. It is then the choppers responsibility to herd the mother away using a series of siren bursts as to make it safe enough for the rangers and ourselves to get out and assist.
I never thought I would say this about a rhino, even though I had always thought that they were beautiful, but this (not-so-little) calf was absolutely majestic. She was only a mere two-and-a-half but she was also a solid 800 Kilograms, 200 shy of a ton. To be next to her and that close was a moment I will never forget. The touch of her armour, the strength of her horn, the feeling of her breathing on my hand and the softness of her thigh were all first moments. As a photographer, we sometimes forget to pause and take in a moment. This was one of those moments. I stood back in awe of this animal and took the time to appreciate what was happening. Although she was sedated, she’s still aware of her surroundings.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the process is that it takes 8 minutes for the dart to take effect but only 30 seconds to kick-start the rhino after the procedure. Needless to say, we did not want to be there when that happened. They say that although the rhino is sedated, it’s head will never touch the ground as it’s still aware of what is happening to some degree. That being said, if you slapped it on the rear, it would get up and charge for you with no thought of your failing short running legs.
It was not long after this baby that we got word of the next rhino. This time around we were going to come face-to-face with a six-year-old bull. I didn’t understand what that information meant until I was standing next to him. He came up to my elbow… yet he was lying down. His head was larger than a 40″ flatscreen and he weighed an astounding two tons. It took eleven men to frequently rotate his legs to keep his circulation going and a good 30 minutes to complete the DNA extraction for the database.
I may never have the opportunity to do this again or be this close to this incredible creature in my lifetime for a second time but having the chance to do it even just this once was enough for a lifetime and still another after that. I can only hope that the work being put into this initiative will be able to sustain the longevity of this animal for generations to come. The thought of my children, my grandchildren or even my great grandchildren never having the privilege of seeing a rhino is not a pleasant thought to have.