Mobile Rhino protection unit (Photos Louise Donald)
How would you spend $3,500? You can take a two-week vacation in Thailand. Or perhaps buy that gorgeous Breitling watch you've always wanted. What about spoiling your parents with a cruise?
Well, there's another way you can part with this not insignificant amount of money and it also involves a good deed.
You and 14 of your friends can spend a couple of hours at the Pilansberg National Park in the North West Province of South Africa, learning about the plight of the highly endangered rhinoceros. Sun International's flagship resort, Sun City, South Africa, is now offering guests a "Rhino Notching Experience," giving you the chance to contribute toward saving rhino together with the Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust. Guests will help a veterinarian and work with park management officials to individually notch or implant an ID tag as well as collect DNA from the selected rhino. This will help identify and conserve the rhino as these procedures assist park management to monitor and manage their rhino populations. In February 2017, the South African Department for Environmental Affairs released poaching statistics for 2016, showing a 10.3 percent decline in rhino poaching as compared with the previous year. But there's no reason to celebrate: 1,054 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone during 2016 works out to nearly three rhinos being killed every day. And while poaching is down in Kruger National Park, it is significantly up in other provinces, particularly KwaZulu-Natal.
Raising awareness through experience
Implanting ID chips in rhino horn
So the aim with this rhino notching experience is to create awareness of the predicament of this magnificent, ancient animal. And this is what we did. After having spent a night at the fabulous Palace of the Lost City Hotel at Sun City, about 20 of us gathered together on a hot, sunny morning in the Pilansberg National Park to listen to Steve Dell, resident ecologist, talking about the general aspects of the rhino, the awful poaching going on, as well as the "dos & don'ts" of notching. Rhino populations in Africa are dwindling as continued poaching puts their survival under threat.
Dell explained the plight of the rhino but the whiff of an elephant's rotting carcass not too far from us didn't exactly add to the ambience of conservation education.
Conservationists and volunteers committed to saving rhinos
The veterinarian also chatted to us about notching the rhino, putting ID chips in their horns and taking DNA from every animal which are all procedures being added to the park management's stringent security measures already in place to deter poaching. All data captured during the field expedition is recorded alongside any future observation by rhino monitoring officers, creating a biological database. Once the rhino is adequately sedated, ground crew and guests move in on foot and carry out the necessary procedures. We sped past lions, elephants and other animals in pursuit of this quest. Once at the designated spot, we all climb off the vehicle and head toward the already darted and unconscious animal. Getting close to a rhino, pressing your ear against its thick, rough skin to hear its heartbeat, and feeling its breath is a rare privilege. Some people touched and stroked it as well as posing for photographs with it but that is not really my personal cup of tea...
Measuring the growth of rhino horn
And as mentioned, the costs involved in a rhino immobilization for this vital management operation, are sky-high.
But it's one for the bucket list nevertheless...
Guests program includes the following:
Guests are briefed by park ecologist, Steve Dell on the general aspects of the rhino, poaching as well as "do's & don'ts" while at the notching. The vet provides guests with information on the veterinary procedures to be performed.
The vet and pilot then fly around the property to find a suitable rhino, guests then move to the area the rhino is in.
After the vet darts and immobilizes the rhino, guests can approach once it has been established that it is safe to do so.
Immediately after the rhino is immobilized the vet and park ecological services, helped by guests, do the necessary notching and DNA collection.
Once all veterinary and ecological work is done, and in consideration of the rhinos' absolute welfare, individual and group photos can be taken.
When all the required aspects are completed the vet will reverse the anesthesia, which wakes the rhino up within three minutes.
Guests, at a safe distance, can watch the rhino wake and move off back into the bush. The whole experience can take between 90 minutes and three hours, depending on group numbers.
The group size is limited to 15 persons per rhino. In winter it is possible to notch four to five rhinos back to back.
For more information contact Mankwe Gametrackers on +27 14 552 5020 or email@example.com.
Air China outbound flights to Johannesburg in South Africa operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, with return services from Johannesburg offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Sun City will arrange transfers from the airport at an additional cost.
Flights will departs from Beijing at 23:15 Beijing time, and arrive in Johannesburg at 7:35 local time on the following day. The inbound flight departs from Johannesburg at 11:50 local time and arrives in Beijing at 7:30 Beijing time.
Photos Louise Donald)