Black rhino wanderers are safely returned: Part 1

The black rhino mother cautiously leads her calf out of the boma after their adventure. Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.

The black rhino mother cautiously leads her calf out of the boma after their adventure. Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.

Earlier this month, two black rhinos had to be rescued by RCB when they went ‘walk about’ in a potentially dangerous area...

When the quick-thinking security team at a remote outpost in northeast Botswana call the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) to say they have spotted a female black rhino and her large calf, Map Ives, RCB's director, sets about mobilising a team to bring these important animals back to safety – and fast!

The rhinos were in an incredibly remote area. We’d like to thank the security team – Molatedi Serengeti, Robert Time, Tendekani Serengeti and Moathodi – for their honesty, integrity and commitment to Botswana’s wildlife. They are true Rhino Guardians.”
— Map Ives, RCB Director
It takes seriously big trucks – and big crates – to move black rhinos around!

It takes seriously big trucks – and big crates – to move black rhinos around!

In ultra-quick time, a truck with crane (and driver), two black rhino crates, and all the gear required to feed and shelter two rhinos and a group of men is assembled. While the team load up bales of lucerne – the rhinos' favourite treat, oxygen, ropes and straps, Map urges vet Dr Rob Jackson to hurry! 

Maun-based helicopter company, Helicopter Horizons, comes to the rhinos' aid in magnificent style, offering a helicopter to speed the RCB team 250km to the remote area where the rhinos were seen. They also secure the assistance of legendary game capture helicopter pilot, Mike Drager.

Our friends Helicopter Horizons help us with the rhino capture operation.

Our friends Helicopter Horizons help us with the rhino capture operation.

When we arrive, late in the afternoon, we set out straight away in the helicopter to find the two miscreant rhinos. They look t be in good condition and are relaxed and mooching around, so Map makes the decision to attempt to capture them the next morning.

The next day

Early morning, the helicopter takes to the air to locate the rhinos. We move the truck and vehicles closer to the pair's location, then dart the mother. We make sure she has gone down safely, before sending the team in to stabilise her. Meanwhile we dart the calf, who goes to sleep in a clearing. Success! Both animals down and stabilised by the vet and it isn't even 8am yet!

While the rhino is tranquilised, RCB's Kyle Burger checks her breathing and pulse and administers oxygen. Scratches acquired during capture are sprayed with antiseptic.

While the rhino is tranquilised, RCB's Kyle Burger checks her breathing and pulse and administers oxygen. Scratches acquired during capture are sprayed with antiseptic.

Then the rhinos are loaded in crates, though herding a black rhino, even a sleepy one, is not an easy job! The helicopter pilot lends Kyle a hand to steer.

Then the rhinos are loaded in crates, though herding a black rhino, even a sleepy one, is not an easy job! The helicopter pilot lends Kyle a hand to steer.

Now begins the slow and careful process of loading the rhinos into crates. This is difficult in rough country, but with all hands on deck – including the DWNP team, security personnel, RCB guys and even the helicopter pilot – the task is completed in three hours. The rhinos will be held in  a temporary boma until we can secure an aircraft to fly them back to the core area of the Okavango Delta – and safety.

With a high-level armed escort, we drive in convoy to the bomas – it's a long journey and takes about six hours. As the light fades, we unload our precious cargo and settle them into their temporary home. The rhinos are brought tasty browse and are soon munching happily, unphased by their busy day.

As the RCB and security teams settle down for the night, Map puts out an urgent call for an aircraft big enough to transport the rhinos home. Will the Hercules C130 be able to come to our rhinos' aid?

The rhinos' crates are carefully loaded onto the trucks for the first stage in their journey. They are kept separate so they do not accidentally crush or spear one another with their horns.

The rhinos' crates are carefully loaded onto the trucks for the first stage in their journey. They are kept separate so they do not accidentally crush or spear one another with their horns.

The team offload bales of lucerne to feed the rhinos and keep them in good condition during their time in the bomas.

The team offload bales of lucerne to feed the rhinos and keep them in good condition during their time in the bomas.

As the light fades, the rhino pair are introduced to their temporary new home.

As the light fades, the rhino pair are introduced to their temporary new home.

Reunited, mother and calf are soon munching happily on fresh browse the team have cut for them. No one will sleep tonight until the rhinos are fed, watered and settled.

Reunited, mother and calf are soon munching happily on fresh browse the team have cut for them. No one will sleep tonight until the rhinos are fed, watered and settled.

Find out how our rhinos get home in part 2, coming soon.