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SOS Rhino : In the News : Wildlife threatened by lack of rain

Wildlife threatened by lack of rain

Joy Russell
Posted Wed, 17 Sep 2003

The lack of rain in recent times is placing animals in the wild at great risk, experts said on Wednesday.

This follows a dramatic rescue recently when a white rhino was trapped in a pool of mud at Imbambala, a wilderness trail at the Loskop Nature Reserve.

According to Eddie Stafford, a director at Imbambala, field guides came across the hapless rhino when they were returning from an afternoon field walk.

The young bull became trapped up to his belly in mud when he went to drink water. The guides immediately raised the alarm.

As luck would have it a veterinary surgeon happened to be in the area at the time and came to the rescue. He was ably assisted by staff members from the reserve and Nic Pasifakis, one of the guests at the camp.

The Mpumalanga Parks Board, which manages the reserve, was also alerted and immediately dispatched experts to help with the rescue.

In the meantime the rhino was tranquillised and the slippery and dirty work of freeing the beast was begun in earnest.

"Once the animal was tranquillised mud from around it had to be dug out, " said Stafford.

He explained the tricky part was to thread a belt under the rhino's belly so they could lever him out of the quagmire. It was no easy task but eventually, four hours later, the task was accomplished and using a Unimog „ an ex-army 4X4 „ they were able to drag the hefty beast to safety. At the end of the task he said "the blokes were covered with mud" with one having got stuck up to his waist in the sticky goo.

A trails officer said over the years four rhinos had died in the same reserve after being stuck in mud.

Stafford said he was very concerned that more valuable animals would suffer a similar fate because of a lack of rain. As waterholes dried up, the spongy earth around them, could prove lethal for many animals.

"This is a major problem. A month ago a warthog was trapped in mud for a couple of days before he died „ probably of stress."

He said the rescued rhino was "lucky" because he had succumbed to the mud at a point where he could be easily spotted and saved. Others might not fare so well.

"The Parks Board told me this is the worst (drought) it's been for 10 years. The potential for animals to get stuck in mud is very high. The ground may look firm but when you step on it it feels spongy. Then you know to get off „ but animals don't."

He said the more agile species such as impala could deal with slushy conditions but heavier animals were in grave danger in such circumstances.

Pete Morrison, wildlife, marketing and communications consultant said rhinos had been on the endangered species list but had been removed and were now listed as "threatened". At the last count there were 3100 black rhinos and 11 670 white rhinos worldwide „ with most of them roaming in South Africa.

Pasifakis, the guest who helped rescue the young rhino said of his experience, "It was cold and I was covered from head to toe in mud. But it was great to be part of a team that saved one of Africa's threatened species from dying."