Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be a vet, part of which has included dreaming of travelling to Africa to view and work closely with wild animals. In June, that dream came true when I travelled to South Africa to take part in the Vets Go Wild programme based on Amakhala Game Reserve. It was an opportunity to work with Dr Will Fowlds, one of the top rhino vets in the world, and I simply couldn’t miss that chance.
I was most worried about the fact I had no wildlife experience before going, plus I had no clinical vet knowledge of the species we were going to be working with.
Some highlights of the trip were taking blood from both a black and white rhino, simulating darting animals from a helicopter and being involved in giraffe capture and relocation.
I learned much while I was there. One of the things I learned most about was the plight of the rhino.
To think that I’ve had the honour to see these amazing creatures up close and work with them is amazing and I’m slightly saddened by the thought that future generations may never get that chance.
Rhino poaching numbers have dramatically increased in the past 10 years, with rhino deaths due to poaching hitting a high of 1004 in 2013 and are at 658 for 2014 thus far. Well organised and well-funded crime syndicates are feeding the growing market for rhino horn, which mainly lies in Asia, particularly Vietnam.
The poachers are often armed with veterinary drugs which they use to tranquilise the rhinos and then hack off their horns with pangas, while they’re still conscious. It’s an incredibly horrific thing to do, leaving the rhinos skull cavities open, exposed and bleeding. Sometimes the dehorning process doesn’t kill the rhino, but pressure sores, from lying down due to the tranquiliser, often leave the animals lame and unable to get up.
But there are glimmers of hope in what are dark times for the rhino. Many fields have rallied together in their efforts to save the rhino. There are anti-poaching teams on the ground, which are armed and dedicate huge amounts of time to observing and protecting the rhino. Technology companies are working on developing drones and tracking systems. Large anti-poaching advertising campaigns throughout Asia and Africa are endorsed by celebrities including David Beckham, Prince William and Jackie Chan. School pupils in South Africa and Vietnam are being educated on their plight in the hope poaching can be prevented in future. There are huge fundraising efforts occurring around the world which help make all of these things possible.
Working with Will has given me optimism that there is a chance for the Rhino. Many people are fighting for them so there is renewed hope for their survival.
‘Only when the last of the animals’ horns, tusks, skin and bones are sold, will mankind realize that money can never buy back our wildlife’ – Wild at heart.