Traumatized Humans: Another Rhino Crisis Fallout (Part 1)

What do soldiers, emergency responders, wildlife rangers and veterinarians have in common? First in a series addressing the human crisis of the rhino poaching wars. 

Margrit Rhino Traumatized 645x

Are you traumatized?

It was back in 2010 when I saw the first image of a rhino brutalized by poachers. I was shocked and had to look away. After that as I attempted to understand the enormity of the rhino crisis I found myself getting somewhat numb and dispassionate as the images rolled across Facebook and the internet.

Another jolted me and brought tears to my eyes a couple of years later. The image of a rhino calf nudging her dead mother, desperately trying to get her to stand up. Peter Milton with SPOTS told me there’s nothing quite as haunting as the mournful cries of an orphaned baby rhino!

Then there was the Thandi incident. Thandi clung to life while her mate Themba, despite an all-out effort, succumbed to the poacher attack. Dr. William Fowlds reported regularly on Thandi’s progress and I was struck by how open he was about how it impacted him and the others on the team emotionally.

Dr. Fowlds and I communicated and he agreed for us to publish the story of how he tried to save another rhino named Geza… we titled it POACHED! Getting the story with photos and a gruesome video clip prepared was gut wrenching. Especially the video, it literally turned my stomach the first time I watched the clip of this poor rhino with its horns sawn off walking about blinded by pain. Just writing this pains me as I relive the experience.

Then a few weeks ago I was asked to post a video to help promote a very worthwhile upcoming rhino event. The video is informative and well done. However, I found myself stalling to post it on our website. Then I realized why. There is one brief scene of a rhino gurgling blood through its gashed open nose cavity… I almost puked! I cannot watch it again. It is so absolutely awful that a human being could do such a cruel thing to another breathing being… it is beyond me!

At times I have to back up… at times I struggle with inertia, despair and a real physical pain in my heart.

If I, not directly, physically on the ground involved with the sounds, smells and real life presence of such an injured being, am so traumatized… how in the world must the wildlife rangers and vets be psychologically impacted?

Like soldiers and emergency responders todays wildlife rangers and veterinarians experience unimaginable scenes of pain and suffering. The human psyche suffers injury when it is traumatized just like our bodies do in an accident.

As a former psychotherapist I decided to brush the cobwebs away and revisit what trauma victims may experience and how they deal with the fallout from their exposure to repeated horrific acts of violence.

What a Trauma Victim Might Experience

As a result of exposure to trauma, be it as extreme as Dr. Fowlds and Peter Milton in the bush, or you and I as vicarious observers on the web, we all may experience some degree of fallout.

Grief and Loss

As humans we tend to respond similarly to all loss in our lives. The intensity of the responses is of course primarily determined by the severity of the loss. There are several emotional states that are triggered at various stages when we experience grief. These may include: Denial (“Everything is ok!”), Anger, Bargaining (“if only…”), Depression.

Destructive patterns

We are reactionary beings. When our psychic can’t make sense of devastating situations we may unwittingly try to cope by self-medicating via excessive drinking, over eating, taking drugs or other negative behaviors.


For some repeated exposure to trauma creates a state of inertia. The inability to make decisions or take action as the psyche attempts to protect itself.

PTSD symptoms

Inordinate amounts of stress, especially over time can result in variety of symptoms which can be associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Survivor’s guilt

Feeling guilty that you’re alive when you can’t keep the rhino alive


Removing ourselves or staying away from situations that may have us relive the overwhelming experience.

Numbing out

As a defense mechanism our psyche may simply suppress all our emotions so that we don’t feel anything, in an attempt to block out the bad feelings.

High alert

The mind has difficulty relaxing and is constantly vigilant for danger even when out with friends or taking a walk with family.

Anxiety or panic

At times sounds, smells and situations similar to the stressful situation can trigger an adrenalin rush which may include intense fear and physical reactions such as heart palpitations, tight chest, and a constricted throat to name a few.

Psychosomatic symptoms

At times when the mind cannot find a way to cope the body reacts by having a pain here or a there. Although these pains are very real a doctor generally will not find anything physically wrong.

If you found yourself identifying with any of the above and it is getting in the way of you living your life, please seek out professional help.

Future posts in this series will include more detailed information about the fallout, where to find help and a surprising flip side to the issues discussed here.

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5 Responses to Traumatized Humans: Another Rhino Crisis Fallout (Part 1)

  1. Robyn Michaels July 1, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Thanks for posting this. It hasn’t been addressed enough. What can we do to get beyond this?

    • Wildlife Margrit July 1, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

      Thanks… This is a work in progress Robyn.

  2. Jude July 2, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    Margrit – this topic is much needed, the people on the ground having to tend, take care of or euthanise severely injured animals, or coming across and investigating their murders are front line troops… Those of us who chose to try to fight for the elephants and rhinos have been traumatised. One cannot do this work without being damaged in some way. I have stepped down, burned out and needing to heal. Images and videos are once removed – but the utter helplessness one feels being 20,000 KMS away, trying our best… Maybe summed up in this poem for the little calf who was taken from the wild by Zimbabwean officials and sold to a Chinese Zoo and Circus in December 2013. Same, same. He has had some help from a well known animal welfare agency and is being treated much better now, but the other 3 calves on that flight to hell – all died either shortly or sometime after arriving in China. We stopped the other 5 from going to the same fate… These experiences are of the same ilk – our utter despair at the sheer carelessness, greed and injury caused by some humans with little or no regard for anyone but themselves. I salute the first responders. And step down from the fray.

    I see you.
    Cold concrete and bars.
    In a far away land.
    Dreaming of …
    Of morning sunlight glinting in your twinkly-eye
    Your cousins tousling and
    forming piles of Lil’ elephants
    With the grasses susurrating
    The smell of water quickening your dreaming pace
    And the umbrella shade of Mother or,
    Older Sister on your back in the noonday sun.
    As it should be.

    I see you
    Cold concrete and bars
    Back bone a ridge, like a mountain of despair
    We witness your shrinking
    Failing fast
    But not fast enough…
    To liberate you from the pain.
    And like useless great lumps of beings
    We hover in front of computers
    Horrified we cannot do more for you.
    As other great useless lumps of beings
    have kidnapped and sold you
    To entertainment slavery in a cruel place.

    Lonely 落寞
    We may not be able to help you,
    But we will do all we can,
    To make sure
    Your kin never endure
    The ride-to-hell
    You have taken.
    Lonely 落寞 I name you ‘out there’
    Lonely and Desolate 落寞 you are.
    But in my mind I call you “Sweet-Grass”
    So at least someone,
    Thinks of the elephant you should have been
    The elephant of whom you dream.

    J.Price © January 2013

    • Wildlife Margrit July 2, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

      Thank you Jude. So saddened by your having to step back… can totally understand though. Please take time to heal your soul.

  3. Joni Polk July 10, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    I found a litter of kittens in my yard a long with a very small Mother that we named Miss Kitty.
    Thinking we were doing the right thing we took them two at a time to the “No Kill” shelter in Austin, Texas. After one day, we decided not to take the other four kittens, but to go back to the shelter and foster them ourselves. When we got there, the intake person, said the kittens were one ounce underweight for adoption and they were put down that afternoon.
    That nearly pierced my heart with a void that I could not fill with love or hate for mankind. Since that time I have cared for any stray that makes its little paws or feet to my path and I hope that maybe I can make a difference in the life of many paws and feet or hooves that venture into my life’s path.

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