Black rhino wanderers are safely returned: Part 2

The two black rhinos – mother and calf – are safely released back into Moremi Game Reserve, where RCB can keep an eye on them. Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.

The two black rhinos – mother and calf – are safely released back into Moremi Game Reserve, where RCB can keep an eye on them. Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.

Last time, we told you that two black rhinos had wandered off on their own little adventure. To keep these precious animals safe, RCB scrambled a rescue team to capture and return them to the Moremi Game Reserve, where they can be kept under our monitors watchful eyes. But the operation wasnt all plain sailing.

With the two rhinos safely captured and munching on lucerne in an enclosure or ‘boma’, Map Ives, director of Rhino Conservation Botswana (RCB), begins trying to track down a suitable aircraft to return the pair to safety. He’s thrilled when, thanks to the support of the Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), and the Commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) air-wing, the majestic Lockheed C-130 aircraft is placed at our disposal.

With air support secured, Map returns to the rhino bomas as it grows dark. With him he brings fresh food for the hungry RCB team and security soldiers, who form a ring of steel around the bomas. Everyone retires to bed early.

As the first rays of light warm the skies, our rhinos are already in crates, sleeping, for their journey to Moremi Game Reserve.

As the first rays of light warm the skies, our rhinos are already in crates, sleeping, for their journey to Moremi Game Reserve.

The next day the team is up before the sun, at 3am, to immobilise the rhinos and load them into crates by the light of our headlamps. Vets Rob Jackson and Caron Botes oversee the operation, while we make sure our adventurous mother rhino is fitted with a transmitter, so that we can follow her movements closely once she’s released.

The rhino crates are then placed on the back of the 10-tonne trucks, kindly supplied by the DWNP, and we start the journey to Maun airport under heavy armed escort.

Our plan is to reach Maun airport by midday, but when the truck starts to struggle due to the cold and heavy sand, we fear we will miss our deadline.

The powerful Lockheed c-130 aircraft waits on the tarmac, ready to transport our rhinos home.

The powerful Lockheed c-130 aircraft waits on the tarmac, ready to transport our rhinos home.

We needn’t have worried. When we finally arrive at Maun, the C-130 is waiting on the tarmac. We’re hugely cheered to see how highly the BDF regard our efforts on behalf of Botswana’s rhinos: the Commander of the air-wing has flown the aircraft down himself and will take command of this translocation flight. 

It takes us two hot hours to load the rhino crates into the aircraft. Then we’re finally ready to fly our wandering rhinos back to the Moremi Game Reserve, where they belong.

The rhino crates have to be gently loaded into the aircraft. They are very heavy so it's all hands to the pumps!

The rhino crates have to be gently loaded into the aircraft. They are very heavy so it's all hands to the pumps!

As soon as we touch down, our highly trained team sets about off-loading the rhinos and moving them onto a truck for the short journey to their next stop. The release bomas have been meticulously prepared by George, one of the local rhino monitoring officers. Once installed, the rhinos are offered water and lucerne – their favourite food – and began to eat with gusto.

We notice Molly has slight swelling around the base of her horn base as a result of a knock in the crate, so Map decides to keep the pair in the bomas for a few days, so that we can keep an eye on her.

By the time the rhinos are bedded down and the crates are re-loaded onto the aircraft, it’s late. The sun has almost set. Can the aircraft safely take off in the dark? The Commander takes it all in his stride, and as the last rays of the sun fade, the mighty aircraft lifts from the gravel strip. With huge relief all round, we retire to our tents for the night.

As the sun slips below the horizon, the aircraft takes off safely, thanks to the Commander's incredible prowess.

As the sun slips below the horizon, the aircraft takes off safely, thanks to the Commander's incredible prowess.

The next day, we are pleased to see that Molly’s swelling is much reduced and both rhinos are tucking in to the freshly cut browse we’ve hung on the boma walls. We try feeding them slivers of sausage fruit, which they almost take from our hands – another sign that they’re not stressed. The rhinos will stay in the care of George, Kyle and Mike Fitt, who are among the best rhino boma managers in the business, until they are ready for release.

The rhino pair happily tuck into freshly cut browse and seem unperturbed by their adventure. Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.

The rhino pair happily tuck into freshly cut browse and seem unperturbed by their adventure. Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.

Our young rhino has a bright future ahead of her, living wild and free in beautiful Botswana. Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.

Our young rhino has a bright future ahead of her, living wild and free in beautiful Botswana. Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.

A few days later, as evening falls, the door of the boma is opened and the rhinos stroll out, back into the wild, as if they have never been gone. We will keep an even closer eye on this pair from now on!

The rhinos are safely released back into the Moremi Game Reserve, where RCB can keep an eye on them! Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.

The rhinos are safely released back into the Moremi Game Reserve, where RCB can keep an eye on them! Photo courtesy of Michael Fitt.