Rhinos without borders: across Africa

| 13th November 2013
In the second of a three part blog in which Les Carlisle joins a team of translocation experts, he travels across two Southern African countries in 48 hours with the aid of armed guards to safely deliver 6 rhino to their new homes ...
We drove all night, right across the width of South Africa

After the real adrenaline rush of the capture and placing the rhino in quarantine, the routines of feeding and exercise in the open boma need to be established. Tristan Dickerson, the Assistant Reserve Manager at &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, and a very accomplished biologist, took on this task.

I had never before used anything except pole stockade bomas to quarantine white rhino and, normally, the animals were kept separate, with the exception of cow and calf combinations. So I was really interested to see how a single fenced boma, with all the rhino kept together, would work.

The team had first seen this done up in Swaziland and they had subsequently used this single boma system for groups of white rhino quite successfully. Tristan was able to call the rhino to feed at feeding time and to move them around the boma for exercise on his own. The rhino quickly exhibited their personality traits and a very clear social structure started to emerge during their time in quarantine.

The morning when the rhino were due to be loaded for transport to Botswana arrived and we were at the boma early to see the feeding and exercising routine that Tristan had established. We parked the car on one side of the boma and quietly walked down towards the feeding gate. As we crossed the access road, &Beyond Regional Director for South Africa Kevin Pretorius saw a lioness lying on the road, watching us, as if to say, "What are you guys up to?"

Tristan came and briefed us that we would be going inside the boma fence and the only thing between us and the rhino would be a strip of white electrified tape. This tape was used to prevent the rhino from stepping over the feeding site and to keep them feeding from one side only. We sat quietly as the rhino slowly approached and, once they started feeding, they completely ignored us. What an incredible experience to have six wild rhino feeding right next to you.

Once the rhino had enjoyed a good drink and feed and had settled down for the day, we planned the darting exercise to load them in the crates for the long journey to Botswana. The darting was a breeze, as usual, with one of the most experienced teams in the world quietly going about their business. The rhino crates were arranged on the trucks with careful attention to the fact that we would be changing from the 4-wheel drive truck and trailer to two more 6-wheel drive crane trucks for the last part of the journey up into the Delta.

The whole loading process was timed so that we could reach the South African border with Botswana just as the border post was opening. This timing meant that we drove all night, right across the width of South Africa. The rhino had been in the crates for 20 hours by this time and we had been up for over 26 hours. We had pre-cleared the trucks, the rhinos and our own passports as much as was possible, so the border crossing was very smooth and, after a really full day, we bade our colleagues, who had provided security in SA, farewell and crossed into Botswana.

We drove all night, right across the width of South Africa

Dr Rob Jackson, our Botswana vet, and the Department of Wildlife Anti Poaching Unit (APU) were waiting for us on the Botswana side and immediately took control of the convoy. We had two fully armed APU vehicles, one in front and one behind the rhino trucks, and the Botswana police gave us a blue light lead escort. The support from the Botswana authorities was really impressive and the professionalism of the escort teams was fantastic.

We arrived in Maun at about 11 pm. The rhino crates were transferred and by the time the trucks made it to the rendezvous point just before dawn, we were all pretty ratty! The soft sand made the going quite slow and the 6-wheel drive that still had its street tires on kept getting stuck, but finally we arrived at the release boma deep in the Okavango Delta where we off-loaded six rhino.

The time was now 10am, a full 48 hours since we had loaded the first rhino back near the eastern coast of South Africa. The Okavango Delta is on the north western side of Botswana. We had travelled right across two Southern African countries in 48 hours and all our rhino had been delivered safely.

Les Carlisle has spent 20 years with safari specialists andBeyond and is currently the group's Conservation Manager. A true authority when it comes to game capture, Les can be credited with the successful translocation of 40,000 animals in the last 10 years from elephants and buffalo to rhinos and giraffe. His methods have revolutionised wildlife management the world over.




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