With 1004 rhinos killed in brutal poaching attacks in 2013 alone, it is estimated that only up to 120 rhinos survive poaching attacks every year, according to Department of Environmental Affairs.
Unfortunately with most funds collected going towards anti-poaching initiatives, there has been limited chance of survival of those that manage to escape a poaching attempt due to the lack of appropriate funds for treatment, research and rehabilitation.
In an effort to help reduce the mortality of these survivors, the ‘Saving the Survivors’ project (a collective force of the South African Veterinary Association, University of Pretoria and private individuals and/or companies) was established to fill this much needed gap.
The project was specifically started in 2012 to treat and rehabilitate rhinos that have fallen victim to poaching or traumatic incidents. This includes rhinos that have been wounded, had their horns hacked off and fallen victim to snaring and traumatic incidents.
PPS, the financial services provider focused on graduate professionals, together with Profmed, the medical scheme catering exclusively to graduate professionals, has joined the fight to save the rhino in South Africa by announcing the donation of R130 000 towards ‘Saving the Survivors’ Project.
According to Gerhard Joubert, Executive Head: Group Marketing and Stakeholder Relations at PPS, the ‘Saving the Survivors’ project is creating a detailed inventory of information about how to treat this largely unexplored animal by using computed tomography to map the maxillofacial and leg anatomy – the first of its kind in the world. “This in turn will help to treat injured and poached rhino. Our donation will be allocated towards funding of the ‘Saving the Survivors’ software to enable this mapping to take place.”
Graham Anderson, Principal Officer of Profmed, says that this project is integral to gaining a better understanding of the rhino anatomy. “Through this research and software development rhinos will have a better chance of surviving a poaching attack which will ultimately assist to preserve the rhino population. At present, more rhinos are being poached than are being born and if more isn’t done to save this species, these prehistoric creatures, which have been around for 50 million years, will reach extinction very quickly with only 5% of the rhino population now left in existence.”
Founder of ‘Saving the Survivors’, Johan Marais, an equine and wildlife surgeon working at the University of Pretoria’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Faculty, says the anatomy of the rhino is relatively unknown, which becomes a problem when treating survivors of rhino poaching. “The only thing we really know in detail about rhinos is their reproductive tract. When treating an injured rhino, all we could do is try to apply the basic principles from large animals like horses because, in terms of what we know, the rhino is closest to a horse.”
Take the head for instance, says Marais. “Until recently, vets didn’t know enough about the structure of the rhinos’ skulls to treat survivors properly. But that is all changing, something for which we can partly thank Thandi – a rhino cow that was darted by poachers at Kariega Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape in March 2012. Her horns were hacked off under sedation and we have used her treatment to build a knowledge base on how to treat rhinos with similar injuries.”
In a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the 1004 rhinos killed this year leads to a 1294% increase in poaching’s over the last six years. For the first time, the number of rhinos being poached is more than the number of births. Thandi, who is now pregnant, represents the importance of the research and treatment of rhinos in order to help save the species.
Marais says the organisation is currently putting together a team and medical instruments to attend to injured rhino in the field. “While a few of these animals are brought in to our hospital, most are being treated in the bush in their normal environment as transporting these injured animals are just not possible or feasible. The areas we frequently visit are Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Northern Cape.”
“We truly hope our donation enables a swifter treatment and recovery for those rhinos that have been injured and ultimately to help conserve this precious species,” concludes Joubert.