The safariFRANK team (Johan, Jan and Frank) had the privilege of taking 5 Aussies on a trip of a lifetime to South Africa to experience the plight of the rhinos first hand. Not only was it an unbelievable experience but also quite emotional and confronting.
The group, we shall call them ‘team rhino’ were based at Ingwelala for the week. Ingwelala (meaning place where the Leopard sleeps) is a private shareblock nature reserve in the Umbabat and adjoins the unfenced Kruger National Park offering a truly unique and “wild” experience. These Aussies had no idea what they were in for!
There was no time for jet lag, the team got up early and stayed up late to find the animals and that they did! Elephants, buffalo, giraffe, rhino and leopard (in fact 6 leopards!) just to name a few.
Ingwelala really delivered and gave team rhino an authentic African experience- picture hyenas coming to the camp fire, lions roaring, sleeping outside in a tree house, exposed to all the elements… and animals (a bit scary!). The team was lucky enough to be accompanied by safariFRANK team member FRANK. Frank was their personal guide for the week and he was able to ramp up the whole experience by teaching the group about the animals and their surrounds. They were especially appreciative to learn to decipher the different animal tracks.
An early morning walk with James Steyn (one of the most experienced trail guides in South Africa) in the Klaserie Nature Reserve was a highlight. There is something about being on foot in the bush that gives you a major adrenalin rush. Team rhino were lucky to see a large herd of buffalo which they tracked and followed throughout the bush watching these beautiful animals in their natural environment. One memorable moment was when James taught them how to determine the length and size of a lion just by looking at its tracks.
Later in the week team rhino arose before sunrise to head out on another early morning bush walk with Wayne Te Brake in the Umbabat Game Reserve. Wayne’s knowledge about and his ability to notice the small things amongst the reserve was admirable and thanks to Wayne even team rhino now know a thing or two about an animals dung and what it can tell you.
Although team rhino were able to participate in the above events, the trip was all about the rhinos. Team Rhino met the people on the ground responding to rhino poaching every day and they were also able to get involved and experience firsthand what is involved to combat this poaching.
SOUTHERN AFRICAN WILDLIFE COLLEGE
The Southern African Wildlife College is a not for profit organisation with a large focus on the rhino crisis. The team were lucky enough to meet the CEO Theresa Sowry and see all the good work the college does. The college is a key-driver in rhino anti-poaching measures and has three main areas of focus: field ranger training, an anti-poaching dog/K9 training unit and the Bathawk flying project. Spending time with the anti-poaching dogs and meeting the soon to be field rangers’ was an eye opening experience to what is actually required for anti-poaching operations and how much people are sacrificing to save these beautiful animals.
Each team rhino member had the privilege to fly with Bruce McDonald from the Southern African Wildlife College in the Bathawk. From the air they could easily spot animals including elephants, buffalo and lots of rhino and were amazed with Bruce’s keen eye and ability to spot the animals far away. Wow, what an experience! Two of the members got to take the BATHAWK experience to the next level and went on a live patrol over the reserve, on the lookout for any suspicious behaviour or poaching incidents. Luckily the coast was clear and there were no incidents to report, it was good to know that the rhinos were safe for the time being. Well done TEAM RHINO!
The most unforgettable experience of the trip was no doubt the rhino notching; the team was able to assist in the entire process and boy was it interesting.
An experienced vet darted the rhino so that it was under sedation. Once asleep the vet made notches into the rhino’s ears so the rhino can easily be identified and monitored. The team drilled small holes into each of the rhino’s horns so a microchip could be placed into the horns. Small microchips were also inserted behind the rhino’s ears. Notching a rhino is an important advancement in the fight against rhino poaching as such marks act as identification points so that if the horn ever appeared on the market it can be traced back to the specific rhino. The whole procedure takes about 25 to 30 minutes and the rhino is well looked after to ensure it experiences as little pain and discomfort as possible. The team were able to assist in ensuring no harm was done to the rhino and it was as comfortable as possible by monitoring the rhino’s breathing and helping move the rhino so that it was in the optimal position. As you can imagine rhinos are quite heavy so this was not an easy task and required all hands on deck! The team were given the opportunity to name the rhino and what better name than…. you guessed it… “FRANK”.
After the procedure team rhino watched as Frank was awoken from his sedation. They were impressed with how easily Frank went on with his day grazing as if nothing had happened.
The process was very moving, and tears filled many eyes. The team shared that the experience gave you such an appreciation of just how vulnerable these large animals are and how important each action to alleviate rhino poaching is. A heart-rending experienced for everyone involved. We hope to visit FRANK the rhino again soon.
Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre
Visiting the orphaned rhino at HESC was also quite an emotional experience as the reality hit home just how much trauma these babies have suffered. The team got an inside look into what it takes to look after these orphans. The babies need around the clock care and require bottles and bottles of milk- it is an expensive task but such an important task in keeping these animals from becoming extinct! It is just another example of how important donations are and how much of an impact it has to keep the centre running. It was an absolute privilege to meet the HESC babies and the team looking after them.
WOW, WHAT A WEEK!
For a few of the Aussies this was a return trip to Africa and for others a first time, but one thing can be certain it was an unforgettable experience for all, never to be relived! Meeting all the people on the ground fighting for the rhinos motivated the team more than ever to help continue to raise awareness and much needed money to save these magical animals.
If you would like to donate to the rhinos please visit: https://give.everydayhero.com/au/safarifrankconservation