This is the first in a series of stories from trackers, monitors, patrol units, vets, keepers, and other brave staff and volunteers working to protect rhinos in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, India and Nepal.
This dispatch was filed by Jackson Kamwi, Senior Rhino Monitor for the Lowveld Rhino Project in Zimbabwe, and Natasha Anderson, Rhino Monitoring Coordinator. Jackson and Natasha work in the lowveld conservancies of Zimbabwe, where they track and monitor rhinos, remove snares, provide veterinary treatment, and rescue at-risk rhinos, moving them to safer areas – all in an effort to protect and increase Zimbabwe’s population of more than 500 black rhinos, the third largest population in Africa.
In my job as a Rhino Monitor, I have to photograph all rhinos in the area for identification and future monitoring – this can sometimes be very dangerous! One day I was checking on a rhino we call “Rumbidzai,” who had a new calf. I had carefully chosen a position to take photos of the rhinos where they could not smell me so they would not be alarmed. But suddenly the wind changed and the rhino mother smelled me. Looking through the camera, I saw her turning towards me and then charging!
I tried to run, but Rumbidzai was running double my speed. I looked back and the rhino was about to spear me with her horn. I don’t know how, but seeing the rhino starting to jump towards me, I dropped down under the rhino mother, then jumped over the calf following behind her. Rumbidzai turned to check for her calf and saw me, and again she came after me. I ran to a dead tree and tried to climb up but again I was not fast enough. I had climbed partway up the tree when the rhino hit me from behind and “helped” me the rest of the way up. Imagine being chased by a 2,000 pound animal, and imagine what would have happened if she had run over me! I was injured, but 5 days later, I was back following rhino tracks.
When we translocate rhinos to a new area for their safety, we usually move them by truck, in large crates, then offload them and put them in a boma (a large, fenced in area) until we are sure they are healthy and safe. One time, a rhino came out of the crate and would not go into the boma. The contract workers helping to unload the crates were scared, and climbed up on top of the crates and into nearby trees. Richard and I had to drive the rhino into the gate of the boma by waving white cloth through the passage of the boma until the rhino got to a position where we could close the gate.
– Jackson Kamwi
I became involved in the Lowveld Rhino Project when a rhino called “Lemco” who lived on the same property as me was found with two wire snares (set by poachers) cutting into her leg. Raoul du Toit, who runs the Lowveld Rhino Project and is IRF’s Africa Program Advisor, flew in with wildlife veterinarian Chris Foggin to immobilize Lemco and remove the snares. They asked me if I could help with monitoring rhinos in the Bubiana Conservancy area and my new career with rhinos was born.Jackson and other rhino monitors bring me data and photos, and information on interactions between rhinos, births, and deaths. We analyze this information to make management decisions for the rhino populations, and to determine monitoring priorities. We also record any information on poaching.Because snaring is still a major problem in our area, we have to move many rhinos to safer areas. When we have to move a female rhino with a small calf, we have to catch the baby by hand after the mother has been immobilized. This always leads to lots of excitement and bruises. It is very important to make sure young rhinos do not spend too much time under immobilizing drugs, so occasionally a rhino calf gets a one-in-a-lifetime helicopter ride to deliver it as quickly as possible to the release area.
– Natasha Anderson
To read more about IRF”s involvement in Zimbabwe, click here.