A conversation with renowned rhino calf response and rehab expert Karen Trendler.
Rhino Rescuer Extraordinaire
She is everything and more I thought she would be! Spending some time with Karen Trendler is a remarkable experience. Despite the horrors she witnesses and the rage that she must at times feel she is composed, gentle and focused.
I have been an admirer of Karen ever since I first read about her work saving orphaned rhino calves. We at Nikela started sharing announcements of her rhino calf rescue and rehab training workshops. As the poaching crises escalated more and more veterinarians, rangers and others need to know how to save the precious, traumatized little ones.
Why so many orphaned rhino calves?
Don’t poachers have any compassion?
Apparently they don’t as adult rhino cows are killed indiscriminately regardless if they have calves or not, are pregnant or not. The number of calves left orphaned is escalating as the poaching numbers do.
Lately poachers have stooped really low… attacking rhino calves with horns but a couple of inches long! Other terrified calves maybe savagely attacked and slashed with pangas as they desperately try to stay close to their dying mothers.
Karen says that as the poaching frenzy continues poachers overall are becoming more ruthless, breaking rhinos backs and sawing their horns off while they are yet alive. Some that are immobilized by drugs, if they haven’t bled out, regain consciousness and even walk around in excruciating pain, like the rhino found wondering around the Kruger Park with half its face gone or Geza Dr. William Fowld’s rhino (footage and story in POACHED!).
With this rise in brutality the depth of trauma inflicted on the calves has also accelerated. Increasing the urgency of more trained rescuers and rehabbers as well as the challenge of capturing the traumatized orphaned rhino calf.
Responding quickly is of the essence. When the poaching scene is left undiscovered for several days it may be too late for the young calf. The younger the calf the more likely it is to stay close to its dead mother. Sometimes they are found still trying to get her to stand up. If not found soon enough they become too weak to be saved, have resorted to eating sand or fall prey to a lurking predator.
However, with all the bad there is good. People like Warrick Wragg and the folks with the sniffer dog unit who at the time of my conversation with Karen had a highly trained dog in the last phase of training to assist in finding recently orphaned calves. Sniffer dogs are absolutely amazing! Thanks to Kirsty Brebner (with the Endangered Wildlife Trust) we had the privilege of being invited to a special demonstration during our Africa Wildlife Tour 2014.
However, even once found the challenge to save the rhino calf is far from over. Capturing the traumatized calf, now terrified of humans, safely is no easy feat.
Once captured it needs to be carefully transported to the designated rhino orphanage. (The first Rhino Orphanage reached capacity earlier this year and Karen has been instrumental in assisting with the opening of two more facilities.) Interestingly enough, the rhino calves most at risk are those between 12 and 24 months supposedly due to impact of living through their mother being brutally killed.
Part of the rehabilitation includes designating a just one handler to a rhino calf in order to minimize the human interaction and encourage the calf to bond with an adult female rhino as quickly as possible.
Although still very much involved in the entire response, rescue and rehab process Karen has expanded her reach by training wildlife vets, rehabbers and others who are becoming more and more engaged in saving rhino calves. Although most anyone can assist there are a few key points that are essential for the successful rehabilitation and subsequent release of the orphan. Nowadays an increased level of security and non-disclosure of details is also prudent to protect the young rhino as well as those providing their care.
May the powers that be end this poaching scourge soon! Our profound gratitude to those, like Karen Trendler, who fight the war on the ground despite the relentless odds.
Other posts about Karen Trendler:
Traumatized Humans: Another Rhino Crisis Fallout (Part 2)
Poacher Attack: Through the Eyes of a Rhino Calf
Wildlife Conservationists, Advocates and Activists who make a difference
Rhino Rescue Rehab Workshop