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Rhino Thandi DAY 30 - 09h00

Jone Haesslich
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Today I spent a wonderful hour “walking with dinosaurs”, well crawling actually. I needed to confirm for myself the status of Thandi’s face and in particular her exposed sinuses, which the monitoring team have been reporting on so diligently. Mike phoned to say she was with the others in a fairly good area amongst patchy bush so I rushed down there and after 45 minutes of tense manoeuvring I stood a short distance from these magnificent beasts.

What a privilege it is to be a part of their world even for a brief moment, my heart pounding as the adrenalin of this thrilling moment pumped life into every artery. Breathtaking moments to cherish and motivate even the most weathered soul.

To see Thandi up close again, to hear her breathe and make her quiet huffs and mews as she interacted with the other rhino, was simply breathtaking. I had to fight down the swells of emotion that pushed up from within, tossing my feelings between peaks of delight and troughs of shame. By rights, human and animal, there should be so much to savour in moments like these. Undetected, in a space of rare privilege, I crouched in the presence of these giants. For a long while, as I waited for Thandi to stand up, I considered this predicament. A servant keeper, sent to that place by the concern of ten thousand or more to report on the progress of just one of the most magnificent creatures alive on this planet. The joy of the moment could have been there for the taking but the reason for being there denied all that. One day I shall return.

Her body condition is holding well, and she is moving well, apparently eating well and showing some signs of psychological recovery in that she is slowly, very slowly, increasing her amount of normal behaviour. We actually don’t know what she must feel inside, we can only wonder. She does have some signs that her facial wounds worry her. She has been doing quite a bit of rubbing on both sides of her head as well as the front part of her face above her lip. This is evident in the red soil marks over these areas. I am not sure if this is her response to the pain, the “itch” of healing or the irritation of infection. Her exposed sinuses have accumulated a lot of debris to the point now that they are almost completely occluded. She has a small trickle of milky mucous running from both sinuses with the left side looking slightly whiter which could indicate some infection now in there. It doesn’t appear to be severe enough to justify an immediate treatment so we have scheduled her immobilisation for 4 days time. The skin all around her gaping holes appears to be granulating well but it is impossible to assess the state of her bone tissues under all that debris and scab-like tissue build up.

I was hoping to be able to confirm that her right eye, which had a small corneal injury still present at day 14, had healed up but I was not able to do that today so this will have to wait for a closer inspection. Her vision appears to be normal so we are hoping for a good report here. Themba’s eye injury never healed up during his struggle so this is an area of concern for survivors. Their eyes are either traumatised from rubbing on vegetation while they lie and struggle or, need I say it, in some cases the poachers actually hack at their eyes with pangas, we presume to blind them and make it more difficult for them to get away. The other callous act which is driven by the same motive, is that they chop off their ankle tendons and hack at their spines so that they cannot run away. No human!

We received some additional blood results back which, Prof Reyers suggested we investigate. The hope is build confidence in other reliable indicators of the status of muscle trauma in cases like these. This enzyme, LDH, was still 8 times higher than the normal range for Themba on day 23. On day 10 Thandi still had LDH levels which were four times the top end of the normal range and in her case very little liver damage to speak of. As more information like this comes through, and with the help of Prof Reyers, we start making sense of these findings and looking out for indications of problems.

Certainly, on the value of these tests, Thandi appears to have suffered more damage to muscle than what she was letting on. Her next blood tests will hopefully confirm good recovery in this area. In relation to Thandi, and future survivors, being able to run every possible test we think could provide relevant information during their recovery stages, will greatly improve our level of understanding.

These tests are expensive and amount to a substantial amount when added up over time. IDEXX, the lab we have been using, have been as moved as we all are by their story and have committed full lab support for Themba and Thandi as well as covering their costs.
This is yet another inspiring example of how people and companies are getting behind this fight by giving freely whatever they can, because so many really, really care. Apart from the many generous donations which have off-set some of the veterinary costs, we have had donations in expertise and hands-on assistance from many areas. To name but a few to emphasise the point, Prof Reyers in clinical pathology, Paul Mills in recording so much of this in broadcast quality footage, Grant Soule and Warne Rippon for helicopter support whenever we needed it, many Kariega volunteers as well as a growing team of specialist surgeons in Dr’s Steenkamp, Marias and Lamont. From afar Larry Witmer and his team from Ohio who have been funnelling in some amazing images to help our understanding of the anatomical damage using CT scan data and hi-tech imaging, and the list grows almost daily.

People in press and media, conservationists like Braam Malherbe, poets, sculpters, NGO’s and rhino activists all pouring passionate commitment into this process. Then there are the comments and messages constantly pouring into the Kariega facebook and twitter portals reminding us how much you all care. You have no idea how uplifting this all is for those of us that are at the coal face of this battle. Some days I don’t know how to even begin to start as I sit down to write the next update. My heart is battered and I feel completely drained by human savagery and animal agony.

Then I start to read your comments and one after the other, without one single exception, your adoration for these rhino and your admiration for that whole human effort that we refer to as the Kariega team, because it is, starts to pick me up and carry me on. I know that every single one of the team feel the same way. It is energising and inspirational. I hear of folks who had grown weary and despondent after years in the trenches who now are rejuvenated by your actions and kind words. Suddenly, there is a new wave of enthusiasm out there as their screams of anger and frustration which went out unanswered into a dark world, come bouncing back amplified now by the swelling ranks of determination shouting “WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH”.

I have students, teachers and school kids coming up with their own special ways of adding momentum to this growing wave of desire to declare what is unacceptable and actively change the current tragic status of rhino.

I am currently a witness to a phenomenon which is building all around us, growing daily from a swell to a small tidal wave but with the potential to become a tsunami. As we each do out our small bit each day, one step in front of the other, we feed off passion of those on either side of us carrying each other forward. Oh wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could flood this story into every aspect of society, opening the world’s eyes to this tragedy, changing the hearts of all humanity to appreciate and desire to always have the privilege and the opportunity of spending time at the feet of these giants. Because its at places like this, that we find food for our souls. What price, what value can we place on this? How much are we prepared to give of ourselves to save this for our own sakes and those who we love?

Will Fowlds