Crisis: Zimbabwe Update: April 6, 2009

Our Truly Dedicated Rhino Team
We are so fortunate to have an incredibly experienced, dedicated and passionate team in Zimbabwe, who often risk their own safety to save rhinos from poachers. Our staff and partners work in one of the most difficult places in the world in which to do conservation, and are true conservation heroes. The Lowveld Rhino Trust is currently gearing up to translocate at least 50 rhinos over the next few months, in emergency operations aimed at removing rhinos from high-risk areas where poachers abound to safer conservancies where they can be more easily monitored and protected.

Rhinos translocations are no easy feat. Rhinos are initially located by ground spoor tracking; monitors are often assisted with spotting by a small aircraft. Once the rhino is spotted from the air, the pilot notifies the veterinarian, an experienced wildlife vet, of the rhino’s age, sex and estimated condition so that the correct drug dosages can be loaded into darts. The majority of rhino immobilizations are performed from a helicopter so that the process is as quick and safe for the rhinos as possible. A truck with rhino crates must be positioned suitably close to the anticipated immobilization site so the rhino can be crated and loaded on the truck as quickly as possible.

An exhausted Dr. Chris Foggin, a wildlife vet who treats injured rhinos and assists with translocations, rests when he can during operations to rescue rhinos from poachers.

An exhausted Dr. Chris Foggin, a wildlife vet who treats injured rhinos and assists with translocations, rests when he can during operations to rescue rhinos from poachers.

Once the ground teams have been adequately directed and the darts are ready, the aircraft pilot calls the helicopter into position so that the veterinarian can dart the rhino. This stage of the operation requires skilled teamwork as the helicopter is flying very low in often difficult conditions (tall trees, high temperatures, moving target), so the aircraft pilot must direct the helicopter pilot as to how the rhino needs to be driven to create darting opportunities and avoid dangers to the rhino such as water bodies, steep gullies, and rough, rocky terrain. Once the rhino (or rhinos, as cow-calf pairs frequently need to be darted at the same time when being translocated) is stationary, the helicopter lands to offload the vet. At this time the ground team also arrives at the site to provide whatever support is necessary. During the immobilization, the rhino’s breathing, blood oxygenation, pulse and temperature are closely monitored so that appropriate action can be taken to control any problems. The transport crate is lifted off the truck with a mounted crane and placed immediately in front of the rhino. A rope is secured to the rhino’s head to help with pulling the rhino into the crate once it has been partially revived. Once the rhino is securely inside the crate it is loaded onto the truck for transporting, and driven to its new home. The rhino is then carefully released and monitored for any problems.

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