With thanks to our generous donors, we were able to support an important security operation of a key population of black rhinos in a reserve north of Johannesburg, in connection with the WWF Black Rhino Expansion Project (BREP).The aim of the project was to replace their GPS tracking foot collars which were about to expire. Instead of usuing a foot collar this time however, a tracking implant in the horn would be used. This is because the foot collars can be are problematic (can cause irritation, the leg then swells and the collar becomes too tight- to the point that it can snap the bone if not monitored correctly.) The implant is a UHF/VHF which is a telemetry implant that allows the anti poaching unit to follow with an antenna and receiver to monitor movements, locations etc. This is preferred over GPS that uploads into a server because of the security issue of not knowing who has access to the positions of all the rhinos on the reserve.
With thanks to our donors, we were able to donate 3 horn implants for this project.
The rhino’s were darted by helicopter with Etorphine (10,000x stronger than morphine). It typically takes 4.5-5 mins before the rhino goes down/ sedated by the dart. In the case of the one male we worked on, he took 15 minutes! Once down, the helicopter landed and we on the ground team moved in. Any thorn trees/ debris were moved and the vet checks that the rhino is in a safe lying position/ legs not caught under the body. Oxygen is administered through the nose for the duration of the time the rhino is down.
It’s quite a procedure then to drill a substantial hole (About 2 inches) in the side of the front horn and then another hole is drilled from the top of the horn to make way for the aerial of the tracking device. Once the holes are drilled, the tracking device is placed in the horn and the hole filled with a putty that dries hard like cement. Gaffa tape is put around the tip of the horn and the main hole just to allow the putty to be kept in place while it is drying fully.
At the same time, a microchip (tiny) is put into both the front and back horn for identification purposes; blood draw and measurements taken for records.
The whole procedure per rhino took about 30-45 mins. Once everything was finished, they were given an anti-dote and a lot of space (!) because black rhinos wake up angry!! Each rhino was monitored from afar to make sure all was well.