Baby rhino saved from poachers

baby rhino
Rhino in South Africa

Hard work for handler getting orphan to adapt to a new life

Source: Weekend Argus, 24th July 2010 but Sheree Bega

LIKA A devoted mother, Khulani Mangena tries to entice Vuma, an orphandes rhino calf in his care, to drink from a 30-litre bottle of specialized rhino refuses, eyeing the artificial teat suspiciously.

After all, it looks little like the source of the mother’s milk that nine-month-old Vuma thrived on until his mother was slaughtered by poachers at the Krugersdorp Game Reserve last week.
But little by little, Mangena, a rhino handler at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve in kromdraai, west of Johannesburg, where Vuma has been moved, sees progress in the traumatized animal. “He has not drunk any milk since he came here last Friday. But he is eating and drinking water. And every day he comes closer to the bottle.”
After his mother was slain, her prized horn crudely sawn off, the calf evaded park rangers for more than 15 hours, searching for his mother.

Vuma shares his new home with two orphaned rhinos who lost their mothers to poachers in the Kruger National Park 14 months ago. Staff named the Krugers-dorp rhino Vuma, which means “acceptance”. “He was wild as hell – that’s what we were expecting. He had never been enclosed,” says reserve owner Ed Hern. “They bumped each other, chased each other and we were getting worried. Now they eat together and sleep together. They’re good friends now.”

But the reserve, too, has fallen victim to poaching syndicates. Two months ago, poachers struck in the dead of nicht, killing Hern’s beloved rhino, Big Queenstown, and her two-year old calf. Now, Hern says, his staff are ready for the poachers, should they return. His bills have risen by about R40 000 a month on tighter security, improved night vision equipment and regular night patrols. The relentless assault on the country’s rhino – with the Private Rhino Owners Association recording that 139 had been slain by July 16 – is driven by the extermination of rhinos in other parts of Africa, Hern believes. “It’s because there are no more rhinos left in the rest of Africa. They were easier to poach and all of a sudden there’s nothing left, so they’re moving south with the population. “We’ll shoot them dead. But they are all wearing bulletproof vests.” “They walk around with AK-47s and R5s… It’s big money. The guys from Kruger tell me by the time a horn, seven or eight kilograms, gets to China, it’s worth $1 million (R7.4m).”

“They (the syndicates) pay the guys doing the dirty work probably R20 000. That’s nothing to them. They can afford to buy helicopters and night vision equipment.”

“They have equipment that works on body temperature and can see the outline of the animal 4km away. So what chance have we got? A piece equipment like that costs R250 000. I can’t afford that.”

SANParks said this week that the National Wildlife Reaction Unit would be “formally consolidated” within a few weeks, and would implement a plan to help stop rhino poaching. Hern urges the government to take a tougher stance with its Far East counterparts.

“The government must tell the Chinese government not to import rhino horn. But they won’t do it. China is just too big a deal for South Africa.”

“We need a public with wide-open eyes. If you see someone moving in a small helicopter… or with a helicopter on the back of a bakkie… alert the authorities. These small helicopters… are not forced to take off from an airport. They just take off from the road.”

He dismisses moves by some to dehorn their rhino to protect them from poachers. “Our visitors come here to see a rhino, not half a rhino. When you dehorn a rhino, it’s an entirely different animal. It stops breeding. It’s traumatic.”

The rhino orphans won’t live here for the rest of their lives – the reserve’s big bulls would kill them. Hern says after they are weaned at about the age of two, they will be donated, or sold, as bulls for other conservation outfits, and could be reintroduced into the wild in a group.

Until then, hern, and his staff worry about the safety of these youngsters. “There’ll always be concern while there’s a market for rhino horn.”

“They’ve shot younger ones than these… and cut off the tiny bit of horn. There’s no sentiment in this game.”

Mangena watches a tussle between his three charges. Vuma sizes up larger counterparts. “Look at him – he stands his ground and doesn’t run away… my concern is for the security of there animals. I compare them to human beings. When their parents are killed, the children are left alone. It’s painful.”

Source: Weekend Argus, 24th July 2010 but Sheree Bega

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