This past weekend I had a group of guests from the US for a day trip up to the Pilanesberg National Park. Little did they know that they would be in for the experience of a lifetime! We had been invited to join another group on a rhino notching excursion!
The early start from Johannesburg ensured that we got to the park just as the gates were opening and were able to meet up with the team team that would be working on the immobilisation and notching of a White Rhino. Due to hot day temperatures, and the inability of a sedated Rhino to regulate its body temperature, the operations are generally conducted early in the morning before the ambient temperature rises to above 24 degrees Celsius.
Two species of rhinoceros occur in South Africa, namely the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and the White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum). Historically, populations of both of these species have been under threat from poaching (especially over the last year) and a reduction in the amount of available habitat. The white rhino has recovered somewhat from the brink of extinction and their numbers are estimated around 16,500. This recovery can be attributed to the success of conservation and protection plans that have been implemented throughout Southern Africa.
Part of this conservation plan is maintaining the genetic integrity of populations. In order to accurately monitor the dynamics of a population, rhino’s need to be identified on an individual basis. A numbering system was developed specifically for rhinoceros, whereby small V-shaped notches are cut into certain positions in each of the ears. The positions of these notches correspond with a number sequence, which gives each notched rhino an individual number. This notching system facilitates the future monitoring of a number of variables including; movement, territoriality and breeding success.
The operation was carried out with aid of a Helicopter, which established the location of a suitable un-notched rhino. A qualified veterinarian accompanied the helicopter pilot and, once a suitable individual had been located, fired a dart containing an immobilizing drug into the animal. Once darted, the Helicopter pilot skilfully herded the animal closer to the road. Our group stayed close by and witnessed this whole procedure.
Once the rhino had been darted and was completely sedated, our group and the other guests were able to alight from our vehicles and enter a hands on role and assist the veterinary team. Participants were now responsible for aiding in the monitoring of the breathing and heart rates, as well as maintaining the body temperature of the animal. This was all done under the guidance of a highly qualified Wildlife Veterinarian and NWP&TB staff.
Once the young rhino bull was stable, staff were able to take vital measurements and to cut the two small V-shaped notches into the rhino’s ears. This young bull was now easily identifiable as Number 3.
Once the notching process was complete, the veterinarian administered the antidote and the rhino woke up.
The rest of the trip provided great sightings of general game, hippo, giraffe and elephant. We were even lucky enough to come across two majestic Bull Elephants that were accompanied by a much younger bull and watched as they drank and then completely submerged themselves in one of the waterholes. This was a magnificent sighting but the rhino notching remained as the absolute highlight of the day!
For more information on our fully inclusive Day Trip Packages to Pilanesberg National Park, just drop us a line using the contact form below!