After Poachers Leave An Endangered Rhino For dead. This Team Is Called In To Help Save Their Lives. Giving The Species Another Chance.
Poaching is decimating the rhino population, the species could become extinct within the next decade.
African rhinos are being poached for the illegal trade in Rhino horns. It's horn is shaved or ground into a powder and used in traditional Asian medicine as a cure for hangovers, fevers and even cancer. There is no proof the medicine works, the horn is made of keratin, which is the same molecule like our nails. The horn is also used to make ornaments in some countries.
poachers can come from poor communities or professionals who are highly organised and well funded using tranquillizers, helicopters, night vision scopes, and high calibre weapons.
A tranquillizer gun can bring the rhino down and then its horn is hacked off leaving the rhino to wake up and bleed to death very painfully and slowly.
Poachers are also often armed with guns making them very dangerous for the anti-poaching teams who put their lives on the line to protect rhinos.
Saving The Survivors (STS) was founded in 2012 by Dr Johan Marais to help injured and endangered wildlife that has fallen victim to poaching or traumatic incidents.
Dr Marais realised that there was a dire need to learn more about endangered species and their veterinary care. Too little was known about rhino and elephants, and he did not want to be faced with the situation that when there are only a handful of the species left, that one needs to now try and make up lost time to save a species
Because poaching is on the rise, there is an increase in victims. Many poaching victims have been given a chance of survival after undergoing various surgical procedures performed by the STS team. Most of the animals are treated in their natural habitat as transporting injured wildlife increases the risk and trauma experienced by these animals.
Photo of animal treated in field
STS will help save any animal that survives a poaching attack, but most of the focus is directed towards rhinos,
How do you find the injured animals?
Most of the time STS is contacted by the first-call veterinarian. Once this veterinarian, or the owner of the farm or reserve, realises that the rhino is in need of specialised care or intensive treatment, then Saving the Survivors are contacted. We endeavour to get to these animals as fast as possible, even if this means chartering a plane or helicopter.
When you find an injured animal, how do they react towards the rescuers approaching them after such a traumatic experience?
All of these animals are wild animals, their immediate reaction to any human approaching them is to either run away or if they feel cornered or threatened they will charge. We see with the hand-raised orphan ‘Vrystaat’ that was attacked that he lost all trust in humans after his ordeal,
and he became ‘wild’ again – we are not sure if he will trust humans again, and if he does it will take a very long time. The animals that are moved into facilities for increased supervision and ease of treatment do become quite accustomed to seeing and hearing humans, but never to the point that you can approach these animals without being separated by a barrier/fence. We keep all human contact to an absolute minimum, and this is because our end goal is to re-wild these animals and we do not want them to be comfortable with humans.
Our end goal, is to save an animal so that it can be returned to the wild to procreate. We recently released a young survivor ‘Ike’, and we have plans to release our other survivors once they are healed. Most of our patients are treated in their natural environment, and this is what we aim for, as it is the least stressful for them.
What emotions do you go through seeing the injured animals?
Everyone experiences these cases of mutilated animals differently. Emotions vary from extreme despair that a human can inflict such pain and suffering on such a beautiful animal, to indescribable rage at what has happened. We, fortunately, do not have much time to let these emotions override our thought processes and we get straight to work to try and save the animal in front of us. It is always more taxing on us when we see how difficult it is for the people with us on the scene – these people often see this rhino as their ‘children’, and that is emotionally very, very difficult.
Do you think there will be a drop in elephant poaching since the ban on Ivory by China?As far as we are aware the ban is not definitely going to happen. Recent news reports state that the UK is also still considering allowing the sale/auction of ivory carved before 1947 – in what way is ivory from before 1947 different to ivory from 2017? An Elephant lost its life either way... And how does one differentiate ‘old’ ivory from ‘new’ ivory – it sounds more like a cover for illegal trade! We still lose an elephant every 15 minutes – a ban on trade will definitely not be the end of the slaughter. It is a multi-factorial problem that needs a multi-factorial solution.
Do ever run into dangerous situations when in the field, such as poachers?
Fortunately, we have never been in a situation where we have stumbled upon poachers, or been approached by poachers when working in the field. Most of our close encounters have been with the animals themselves, but we know that this is one of the risks of the job that we do.
Every case encountered is unique and tests the team's’ resolve. STS is fortunate to collaborate with world-renowned clinical specialists, conservation groups and the unwavering support of the public.
STS has been awarded multiple conservation awards including:
Rhino Conservation Awards – 2014
SA National Parks Inaugural Kudu Awards – 2015
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