This story is one of true sadness. On Wednesday 18 June 2008, I received an urgent call from The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, saying that yet another white rhino mother had been poached and had left a young orphan calf behind. Instantly Dr Astrid Huelin and I collected all the drugs and necessary equipment to address the possible situation we would encounter once we were on site.
With a multitude of emotions, such as anger, anxiety, sadness as well as a glimmer of perhaps hope that just maybe we could do something for this little innocent who now lying dying beside his dead mother.
It was an hour’s drive to where the mother and baby were being kept. From the reports the baby’s situation was not good. He was motionless and the parks officials did not think he would make it due to the severe injuries. But there was nothing to prepare me when I arrived on the scene and saw this helpless, motionless freezing little body. There lay this perfect body covered in blood. When kneeling down, I could feel that this little baby’s body was ice cold – but there was a slight pulse. We filled hot water bottles; cover the body with blankets and a space blanket in the hopes of bringing up his temperature. One of the biggest problems with orphan animals is shock and hypothermia. A baby will die due to hypothermia.
Gently rubbed his body, talking to him softly all the time in the hopes of bring him some support and comfort. His face was covered with blood! On the front of his face there were four axe marks, which zigzagged across his face. Two of these cuts were at least an inch deep. He had lost a fair amount of blood due to these injuries. We administered a drip to increase the fluids and in the hopes of giving him energy to fight. He was injected with a pain killer. This little body was not warming up!!!!
“Please help anyone!” this cannot be allowed to happen – he has done nothing he is innocent!! – kept going through my mind. If only I could wave a magic wand and take all his suffering away. What man continues to do for his own greed is something I will not ever understand – when you see this helpless creature fighting for his life or in this case this little baby wishing to join his mother, your heart can only but break!
The Parks scouts were with us and they too were angered by what had taken place in their park the night before. One saving grace is that the poachers – all four of them were apprehended and are now in jail awaiting the charge of poaching one of not only Zimbabwe’s rarest animal but the world’s!!! Mr Elson Gwanyanya, the head Warden, helped us to get the baby who had now been named Nyasha by the Parks scouts, into our vehicle so that we could get him the care he needed. Nyasha in Shona means hope, peace and mercy. This little baby boy rhino could not have been more aptly named.
After trying to stabilize Nyasha we got the necessary approval to take him to where we would try and raise him if he were going to survive. Imire, it was decided was the most appropriate place to take him. Imire is a game park and sanctuary to wildlife and some of Zimbabwe’s remaining black rhino. It is owned by John and Judy Travers. Late last year four of their rhinos were poached or rather slaughtered, leaving behind Tatenda yet another male orphan calf.
Another 1 ½ hour road trip lay ahead of us. The heater was on full ball to try and get Nyasha’s body temperature up. He was now onto his second drip which was feeding into him via a vein in his ear. Nyasha and I shared a warm moment when I called him as if I were another rhino and his ear moved. This was hope and that is all any of us needed. The wounds keep bleeding, but at this point they seemed clean and I had put antiseptic ointment into them which was all I could do. How can I watch this baby lying in front of me, in pain, terrified and on the verge of meeting his Maker! This is all wrong. Wrong so wrong!
As part of the human race my heart cries for all of us. What lay before me was only a picture of perfection, defaced by the hands of man. Yet now in the hopes of saving him, there was only so much we could do – was that going to be enough? After an hour on the road, we had a blow out! Astrid drove us to safety and there we all sat, just for a moment. Then, it was action stations and Astrid, Star and Gabrielle (Gabrielle and Star are vets wanting to learn more about wildlife) jump out to quickly change the tyre. The car was left on so that the heater remained on to keep Nyasha comfortable.
“What – no jack?”
It was getting dark and we were on the side of the road in Zimbabwe ten days before the elections. Let me tell you it was not the most comfortable feeling that I had ever felt before. Astrid literally jumped into the road to stop the first car! Visions of a critically wounded rhino together with a wounded vet did pass through my mind. But thankfully two cars stopped to help us and there was only complete and utter concern on everyone’s face and minds as soon as they had heard our plight and situation. 30 minutes later we were off. Silence fell on the vehicle, I am sure we all were in our different ways praying for this baby’s survival.
We had contacted Imire before leaving Harare, to warn them that we were coming with an injured rhino. On arriving at Imire, we could see that they had worked most of the afternoon erecting a manger where Nyasha was to go. Due to his critically low body temperature, there was no way he could stay outside – it would kill him. We arranged a mattress with duvets and blankets in front of the fire in the sitting room. Then four people carried Nyasha from the vehicle to inside, to be by the fire. Once he had settled we explained what we had administered to Nyasha and what would be required over the next 48 hours. As he was only a month old, we decided to try and feed him milk. You must realise however that Nyasha was so weak that to do this was not going to be easy. With Judy holding the bottle of milk, another person holding his head and with me trying to massage his throat gently, to make him swallow. After about 10 minutes, he had drunk 100 mls. Exhausted – we let him sleep. Talking softly and rubbing his little body in the hopes that he would start to warm up.
This is what Nyasha faced in order to recover from his injuries;
He had a head trauma and more than likely the axe had reached his skull if not his brain. With any head injury there is a possibility that his brain would swell.
He had lost a lot of blood.
His body temperature was critically low.
Due to the wounds, which were made with a dirty axe this would create an infection which he did not have the strength to fight without antibiotics.
These are only the physical injuries. I ask you readers, for a minute to stop and think to yourselves how you would feel as a month old, innocent creature with no knowledge of pain or suffering and in one foul blow your mother is murdered in front of you! You are hacked at with an axe when trying to help your mother? There is no scale of measurement for this kind of trauma and this is something which will not help Nyasha’s recovery.
At 10 pm that night, I handed Nyasha’s fate over to Judy. With a heavy heart, I left Nyasha. Before leaving I whispered my sincere sorrows for his pain and asked for his forgiveness for what my kind had done to both him and his mother. But there is no forgiveness! This could be the last time that I was to see this battered and broken soul. If he was to go I could only wish and pray that it be quick.
Nyasha died on 19 June 2008, at 4.15 am. Peace at last, reunited with his mother!
Many tears have been shed over this injustice. Many angry words spoken over this merciless killing – murder! Yet no amount of tears shed or words spoken will bring this baby back to this world where he was first born. There is no action that can be taken which will ease the pain with which that baby died. I ask myself if there is anything which can be done, so that these murders were not wasted? No – is the answer. For these rhinos who have been murdered in Zimbabwe, there will never been enough justice done to account for their loss. Animals continue to be murdered, struggled to death in snares, rotting carcasses! To die without dignity is a sin and it is our sin. And yes I am sad, and I am angry, my heart is heavy with no end in sight as no matter which way I turn there are no more answers.
In memory of Nyasha;
“Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!
- Les Miserables
- Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
The poachers remain in jail and bail has been denied. This is the first case of poaching where bail has been denied. We will keep you posted to the outcome of the poachers!