Text and photos by Natasha Anderson, Lowveld Rhino Trust, Zimbabwe
Natasha Anderson is the Rhino Monitoring Coordinator for Zimbabwe’s Lowveld Rhino Trust, which is supported by the International Rhino Foundation. In this update, Natasha describes the reintroduction of two orphaned black rhino calves whose mothers had been killed by poachers.
The big day finally arrived. The team started early to avoid any unnecessary unsettling changes in the rhinos’ normal morning routine. Straight after their morning bottles of milk, both rhinos were tranquilized. Once the drugs took effect the capture team moved in, notching both rhinos’ ears for future identification purposes, drawing blood to analyse for health/disease checks, and fitting a horn transmitter to the older Bebrave to aid post-release monitoring.
Loading tranquilized rhino, Bebrave, for reintroduction
All the commotion attracted the attention of the hand-raised eland, Sparky, who had been Bebrave’s companion before Long Playing arrived. Watching all the activity over the fence, the eland was quite unaware that he was to be next, as the plan was to release all three hand-raised animals together since they had been living together for well over a year.
Sparky the eland observing the rhino release from the truck
The drive to the release area took nearly two hours, which is short by normal translocation standards. A quiet water point not normally used by the only other known rhino in the area was chosen in the hope that the two young rhinos will be able to establish new home ranges without disruption. The release went smoothly, the rhinos joining up with each other quickly before quietly walking off down the road – a hugely rewarding sight after a year-and-a-half of daily care.
Bebrave and Long Playing back in the wild
Sparky, the hand-raised eland, was released at the same water point. The hope was that the three friends would re-join each other in the bush. However, it appears that a herd of wild eland came through to drink at the release water point later that same day and Sparky has not been seen in the company of the young rhinos since. Hopefully he is now also back with his own kind.
Sparky the eland returns to the Lowveld