Without a doubt wildlife veterinarians are the rhinos’ heroes right along with the anti-poaching rangers.
What follows is a meager attempt at understanding what wildlife veterinarians engaged in the rhino wars experience.
It was back in early 2012 when I read a daily log by Dr. William Fowlds on Facebook. He was treating a rhino that survived a poacher attack and was in a desperate race to save her. His ability, not only to document the facts, but allow his emotions to surface drew me in and allowed me a tiny glimpse of his reality. I thought more people needed to experience what I had, so I asked if we could publish some of his notes. To my surprise, he sent me an entire account of his sadly futile effort to save a young rhino he had personally known. With his permission we published this story as a free ebook titled, “POACHED! The tragic story of Dr. William Fowlds’ heroic attempt to save Geza the rhino” [It has since been translated into Cantonese and Mandarin.)
Like your domestic animal veterinarian, wildlife vets are trained and accustomed to dealing with illnesses and injuries. They are not prepared, or ever envision, being called in to a war zone. A war zone where rhino are drugged or shot. And frequently, while still alive have their horns, along with part of their face, brutally hacked off. It is these rhino that are found staggering around, in what must be excruciating pain, that veterinarians like Dr. William Fowlds and Dr. Peter Rogers are called upon to help.
In early 2014 Russ and I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Peter Rogers at his office in Hoedspruit. At the time he was treating two rhino cows who had survived a poacher attack. Sadly, a third rhino, a bull was found dead. Unlike I had been led to believe, rhino who’ve had their faces mutilated don’t bleed to death, but die as a result of their wounds. Generally determined by how severely, and where, they have been wounded by the bullet(s). In this case, all three rhino had been darted with an immobilizing drug. The rhino bull, unlike the two rhino cows, was darted with a large enough drug dosage to kill him.
Dr. Rogers told us that one of the biggest challenges he faces when dealing with such a survivor is how to protect the wound so it can heal. First it has to be cleaned, from any maggots and infection that may be present, after that antibiotics and pain killer are administered, and finally a suitable dressing is put in place. Now imagine a huge rhino with a bandage on its face, what’s it going to do? Rub itself against the nearest tree and scrub the bandage right off. After all, a huge rhino is not like your pet dog that can wear a plastic cone around its head to keep it from getting at a wound.
Here is where wildlife vets are required to be innovative. Dr. Rogers showed us photographs of how he created fiberglass coverings that get attached to the rhino’s head. Again, unlike your dog, each time the dressing is changed the rhino has to be anesthetized, putting it and those who treat it at risk of harm. Dr. Rogers showed us a video clip of one of the rhinos in treatment. As she was administered the antidote she came too and struggled to her feet, despite the pain killers you could see the stress and fear in her eyes. How I wished I could make the pain and trauma go away for her! Fortunately the prognosis for these two rhinos was favorable because they had no gun shot wounds to recover from. However, what emotional scars will remain?
What about the vets like Dr. Fowlds and Rogers, how do they deal with it?
Do they ever get used to the horrors?
I don’t believe they do. Like soldiers of other wars they learn to cope, and just like the family and friends of those soldiers can never fully understand, so it is with us… next to impossible to comprehend the emotional strain on these brave warriors, the wildlife veterinarians.
May they continue to have the strength to save the survivors.
Follow our adventures
If you SHARE this
Please include #NikelaAfrica in your comments, thanks.
Want to join us in helping people saving wildlife?
100% of your gift will go to save wildlife, we totally pay our own way.