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Rhino Thandi DAY 29 - 08h00

Jone Haesslich
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Even though our hands-on rhino time on Kariega has been dramatically reduced since the passing of Themba, the level of intensity that this whole operation generates is as high as ever. With only one living survivor left, Thandi’s future well-being has become an even greater priority than I thought possible. We knew she was special, we know she is a walking miracle but your beautiful comments and praises for this special young lady of the wild have emphasised just how precious she has become in the eyes of all those who follow her progress.

For the Kariega team this translates into even more responsibility as the pressures of success are tangible, the prospects of failure unthinkable. There can be no doubt that everyone on the team embraces this as an absolute privilege to keep this one alive and make her better.
Off the back of an exhausting week, trying to process the death of Themba and making sure we don’t lose focus of Thandi’s needs, I have been busy expanding our support base as we move into the next phase of Thandi’s care. The foundation for her future well-being is to get her as strong as possible. We are trying to schedule as little anaesthetic time as we can into her treatment plan over the next few weeks as she may well face long hours of surgical anaesthetics if we get to that point later.

In terms of her general progress, Thandi seems to be a little less stressed than she has been. She is spending slightly more time in the open areas again although a far cry from her pre-poaching days. We have not wanted to harass her so as far as we can ascertain she appears to be maintaining steady progress. The substantial amount of information we have learned from Themba continues to breathe life into the road ahead for Thandi. We have started receiving the first of the additional blood tests suggested by Prof Reyers which analyse more detail of their serum proteins through a process called electrophoresis, hence the term serum protein electrophoresis (SPE for future reference). We don’t yet have enough results to be able to draw useful conclusions but having the benefit of two cases in Themba and Thandi will assist us a lot in learning by comparison.

Their story is inspiring such an incredibly generous spirit, that offers of assistance have flowed freely. We have started to expand on the surgical team which will collaborate and consider if there is something that can be done for her face. It is quite clear that surgical options will not be as straight forward as what we would like to believe as we are, after all, helping a wild animal who lives in a very harsh environment for the purposes of post-surgical recovery. Part of this consideration is to research every known survivor and their injuries in an attempt to weigh up the possible benefits of surgery against the risks which could be involved.

Every additional team member we bring into this process is in this fight for the long haul and even at planning stages, we are trying our best to incorporate a long term strategy that will benefit future rhino under these circumstances.

Official poaching stats released this week (reflecting last week) have reached 146 for 2012, a staggering 1.7 rhino per day. The figures threaten to overwhelm us and sweep us into a state of despair. The fear of where this is heading could quite easily paralyse us if we don’t remain focused on that which we are able to do. In this war, being fought on so many sides, the most important thing is for each one of us to take care of our portion of the frontline; our sphere of influence, our network, our colleagues and our friends. This is where we will be most effective; this is our area of responsibility, something small every day.

Yesterday I did two more rhino presentations to children from 9 years old to folks in their seventies. Without exception, everyone is moved by the story of Themba and Thandi and the amazing revelation has been how everyone is able and inspired to play and active role in this fight. I feel the connection at so many age levels to their desperate struggle and people are starting to generate imaginative ways to express that connection and convert emotion into tangible action.

It is so encouraging to see the story of Themba, so desperately tragic in every way, germinate a desire to make a difference and turn this scourge around. I have yet to understand the full prophetic meaning in his name, Themba (HOPE). Could the hope that his name speaks of possibly lie not so much in who he was in his life, but what his life and death will inspire in you and me in the context of this crisis.

Maybe our response to his valiant struggle draws us out from the shadows of complacency and into the reality of our day. That reality speaks of lawlessness, greed and disregard for life. For now these monsters feed on the rhino. Beyond that will come elephant, tigers, polar bears and gorillas along with many others. Each death, each statistic, convincing us that we are too insignificant to do something about it. Each extinction crushing our hope until we too are dead inside.
Maybe, the hope of Themba is revealed as we see dormant seeds germinate into inspired action all around us and in turn inspiring us to draw from the courage which he exemplified.

I have started to witness this for myself in the past few days and this gives me great hope. As his story, like his name, gets spread by you from one person to the next around this world, that vital spirit, HOPE, lives on.

Will Fowlds