As part of its poaching prevention programme, Shamwari is collecting DNA samples from all of its rhino. A rhino micro-chipping and DNA gathering exercise took place on Thursday, June 07. The delicate operation involved a lot of logistical planning, and a large backup team to ensure the rhino’s safety as well as the success of the exercise.
Once a rhino is darted, the anaesthetic takes up to eight minutes to work its way through the animal’s system. The rhino can run at up to 35 kilometres an hour, and can therefore cover a lot of ground between the time that it is darted, and the time that the anaesthetic takes effect. The Shamwari team had a number of ‘spotters’ in vehicles at vantage points that followed the five year old male white rhino’s progress once he had been darted. Despite the animal’s large size, veterinarian Dr Johan Joubert revealed that it only takes 3ml of anaesthetic to incapacitate a fully grown rhino – a similar dosage is used when anaesthetising blesbuck. “Rhinos are extremely susceptible to the anaesthetic, and it is a fine balance between too little and too much,” says Joubert.
The darted rhino headed for a large overgrown thicket, and three trackers on foot had to follow his path through the dense bush in order to find him. Once located, the efficient team set to work gathering DNA samples, horn shavings, hair samples from his tail and blood samples. He was also micro-chipped. All of the information is then sent to Ondersterpoort to be documented on an international database. Although the exercise does not necessarily prevent poaching, it has proven to be highly effective in securing convictions in poaching cases.
Shamwari experienced one of the first rhino poaching incidents in the country in 2008 and since then has taken all measures possible to prevent it happening again. “That first rhino was named Junior, and I was working for the reserve when he was born. I watched him grow up into a very large, strong bull, and he was like one of my own kids,” says Joubert. “Getting the call to say that Junior was dead was devastating.”
In 2011, the reserve was shocked to learn of a second poaching incident in which two of its rhino were brutally attacked. “We are hoping that we won’t have to resort to drastic measures in our anti-poaching endeavours,” says Joubert. “We have a highly trained, efficient anti-poaching team led by former SAPS organised crime unit head, Rodney Visser.”
Anti-poaching efforts require large amounts of human and financial resources. Gathering intelligence as well as employing rangers to patrol hundreds of hectares of dense bush adds to the running costs of game reserves. The average cost per rhino tagging exercise ranges between R6900 per white rhino up to R10000 per black rhino as a helicopter needs to be used. These costs are incurred by the private reserves, which is why fund raising and public support are vital.