The second week in the month of December was fast coming to an end and the Vet unit based in the Mara had a busy week and was anticipating a quiet weekend. But shortly later a distress call came in from L. Nakuru National Park Rhino Warden informing the Vet of an injured White Rhino. The two female Rhinos had a fierce territorial fight the previous day and one of them with a yearling calf had sustained a serious wound on the left shoulder which by his assessment needed quick veterinary attention. At that point we all agreed to prepare ourselves by the night with anything and everything that we needed for the operation and then leave Masai Mara for L. Nakuru the following day, which was a Friday, very early in the morning.
Early Friday morning, we set out for the three hundred kilometers journey which took us slightly more than five hours. We arrived just before noon, had our lunch and headed to the Park Headquarters for a short briefing. We waited awhile since Rhinos seek refuge in dense thickets especially at midday when the sun is very hot and will only venture out onto the open grasslands in the evening when the heat subsides.
At 3pm we drove to the general area where the rhino is usually spotted grazing with her calf and after an hour of scouring the bushes around she suddenly emerged with the calf in tow behind her. The gaping wound with some blood oozing out was clearly visible on the left shoulder and this case certainly needed veterinary attention.
Two four wheel drive park patrol vehicles accompanied us and they proved a huge help on this occasion. A tranquilizer dart was prepared and all the other necessary equipment and drugs including water. Before she was darted the calf was clearly noted to be restless and would at times block his mother from the vet’s car thus hindering him a clear shot of its mother. We tried quite a number of times but we decided to act patiently rather than rush and regret afterwards. With luck on our side, she was successfully darted from the vet vehicle and this sent her galloping to another waiting male Rhino where she suddenly stopped and turned to stare at us.
After about ten minutes later the drug started taking effect and she could be seen trying to keep to her feet. But white Rhinos are hardier and don’t easily succumb to anesthesia. Ropes are usually used to pull the animal down and thereafter a capture ranger has to hold the animals head down or else the animal will always try to get up and continue walking in a staggering manner.
Meantime, the two other vehicles shielded the vet team from the agitated calf who was frantically fighting to protect his mother from an unwarranted ‘intrusion’ of their afternoon peace and freedom. With little persuasion he realized we meant no harm to his loving ‘mom’ and stood a distance away watching us.
The wound was quickly cleaned with Hydrogen peroxide, water, Tincture of Iodine and finally sprayed with an antibiotic spray. Long acting antibiotic and anti inflammatory drugs were also intramuscularly administered to cushion her from other infections and to hasten the wounds healing.
When all the necessary treatments had been done the animal was revived from anesthesia and stood up within two minutes. But even then she was still somehow drugged and started running the opposite direction from where the calf was waiting. That became the last but most potentially devastating hurdle we had to overcome. Separation of a Rhino Calf from its mother can be fatal; as attacks from marauding lion prides, and hungry hyenas pose a threat and even starving to death. So we had to make sure that both mother and calf rejoined at all costs.
Using all the available vehicles we decided to herd the panicky young animal in the direction of the mother. At the beginning it looked like its going to flop but eventually we managed to push the calf to the direction of the mother and the animals managed to rejoin to the happiness of everyone involved in the operation.
During such sensitive operations, teamwork, agility, selflessness all contributes to the unit’s success. And success translates into satisfaction. We thank our partners KWS, and particularly the Minara Foundation for funding this valuable unit, without which such highly endangered animals would not get a second or a third chance to live.
Mara Vet Unit