Words by Natasha Anderson
Back in mid 2008, the year in which poachers killed a staggering 16.6% of the black rhino population in the Lowveld conservancies, a black rhino cow called Teressa and her two month old calf Joseph narrowly escaped becoming part of this tragic statistic. An incursion by rhino poachers had been detected in Bubye Valley Conservancy and as part of the follow up Lowveld Rhino Trust rhino monitors checked on all the rhinos in that particular area. Teressa was found unable to stand due to a bullet wound to her right shoulder – she had been shot with a silenced 30 calibre rifle. Not able to get to water or food sources, Teressa and her calf (Picture top right: Teressa and Joseph) would have died without urgent assistance. Teressa was immobilized for treatment and then moved with her calf into bomas so she could rest and recover.
Unfortunately the combination of being shot, lacking food and water for two days and experiencing the additional stress of the immobilization resulted in Teressa producing less milk than normal and young Joseph became distressed and lost weight as his hunger increased. It took many hours of patient effort for a handler to coax Joseph to take milk from a bottle inserted through the wall of the pen in which he had been confined with his mother, who was remarkably tolerant of this human intrusion.
The success that was achieved through this human-rhino interaction meant that Joseph could be left with his mother rather than being separated for hand-rearing. Three weeks later Teressa was able to walk normally again, her milk production had returned to normal and the pair were released back into the wild together.
Routine rhino monitoring patrols confirmed that Teressa and Joseph continued to do well after release. In November 2010 Teressa gave birth to a new calf and Joseph had grown into a strong sub-adult. In November 2011 Joseph (now three and a half years old) was found back with his mother and his now one year old little sister.
Teressa and Joseph are just two of many rhinos which have escaped death and continued on to help their species fight against extinction. Black rhino cows Sinikwe and Juliet both suffered bullet injuries and lost their calves to poachers in separate attacks in early 2009. Fortunately their bullet wounds were not severe and both females recovered well and have since given birth to new calves (Picture bottom right: Sinikwe and 2011 calf). Mazda, another black rhino cow, was shot in the hind leg by poachers in late 2010. Mazda’s made a full recovery and gave birth to her next calf in March 2011.
Over 30 black rhino births have been recorded in the Lowevld conservancies in 2011. Over the same time period poachers have claimed a known 13 black rhinos in the same areas – a loss of 3.4% of the Lowveld black rhino population.