WATCH: The faceless heroes in combat on the frontlines of SA's rhino-poaching war
The bush is thick. It hides animals from tourists on safari bakkies keen to tick off the Big 5.
But the thick spekboom bush doesn’t hide them well enough. Not from poachers who use the thicket to their advantage - stalking their prey, the way a lioness might an unsuspecting impala.
With a lucrative rhino horn industry booming, most notably in Vietnam, it is now estimated that around 2-3 rhinos are poached in South Africa daily.
This endangered animal is fast-disappearing from our ecosystem.
‘‘The rhino plays a key role in the ecosystem and is also pivotal for our country’s eco-tourism. South Africa has the biggest concentration of rhino in the world, which we want to protect and preserve for generations to come and it is this reason that Volkswagen made a decision back in 2011 to support Wilderness Foundation Africa’s anti-poaching activities,“ said Andile Dlamini, Head of Volkswagen Group South Africa.
The army on the frontlines fighting this war against rhino-poaching, are faceless warriors. Working in national parks and game reserves around South Africa and Africa, they are not traditional soldiers or special forces, but rangers, vets and conservationists.
“Rangers are the best people to fight this war. They know the bush like no one else,” says a representative from the Wilderness Foundation Africa.
However, unlike the police force or army, rangers will be prosecuted if they shoot a poacher to defend themselves – making this fight even more difficult and risky.
I recently had the chance of tagging along on a mission involving the tracking, ear notching and DNA gathering of rhinos to ensure they are as protected as possible.
We drive deep into the dense vegetation that defines the landscape in the Amarok donated by Volkswagen as part of its conservation efforts. Dropped off, we run into the wild. A Big 5 area, we all feel exposed. Much like vulnerable animals must feel, defenseless against a gun.
In a true case of prevention is better than cure, we experienced first-hand the efforts that go into saving these magnificent beasts. From a 4-year-old rhino, to a baby rhino who has barely grown any kind of horn.
After being darted, the rhino is out for a few minutes while the vet attends to it - implanting a tracker in her horn and gathering DNA samples. Rhino notching has now become a crucial part of rhino monitoring and conservation.
Approaching such a big animal, skin almost as thick as tree bark, you hear its gentle breathing and feel heat emanating from its body - one even let out a fart which gave us quite the skrik – it feels unnatural to be so close to it.
I place my palm on its back. It exhales.
We are not supposed to interact this way. But in this case, humans and wild animals need each other.
*Marisa Crous was hosted by Volkswagen Group South Africa for a media visit to experience Rhino notching.
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