Thandi has guardian angel

Stephan Vegelien

THANDI the rhino, one of the victims of the brutal March 2 poaching attack in the Kariega Game Reserve, has her own guardian angel.

Assistant reserve manager Jason Loest is watching her every move as she fights for recovery.

Veterinarian Dr William Fowlds has been treating the wound where the poachers hacked her horns off her face. Dead tissue has been removed as well as broken bone fragments, maggots, mud and bacteria.

He said she was recovering well, but warned there was a way to go until she was safe. The attack also left another rhino, Themba, seriously injured. He subsequently died of his injuries.

Regardless of the weather, Loest finds it inspiring as he goes about his work every day.

“It is great to see how the rhino improves. The ability to recover is incredible. Tissue is regenerating. She just keeps fighting.”

Loest monitors Thandi and the other rhinos in Kariega every day.

“It takes about an hour or two a day to find them. Then I watch her behaviour for a few hours.”

To find the rhinos, he uses a radio device. Thandi has an ankle bracelet with a transponder.

“It helps a great deal, but it still takes long to find her because she is mostly hiding in bushes,” he said.

“It is amazing to spend time with these animals. It is so exhilarating. It is fantastic to get so close to a wild animal like this.

“And it can be quite a rush too. Especially when she gets annoyed by my presence.”

Loest can only monitor her for a couple of hours a day because rhinos are very susceptible to stress. “I do not want to disturb them. They should not get stressed in their own backyard.”

Every day, Loest goes to see the rhinos, alone, to minimize the disturbance. “Sometimes there is a veterinarian with me. But you want to limit the disruption,” he explained.

Thandi and the other rhinos in the reserve used to be quite tame, but are extremely sensitive to human movement now.

“They are shy and afraid of humans because of all the medical treatment.”

Loest said the monitoring work could get boring at times.

But it is interesting. “You need to follow Thandi and duck around a bush or tree so that she doesn’t see you or smell you, or she will take off.

“It is beautiful to see how the animals interact. The young ones are playful at times, regardless of past events. It is a little window into their lives. I love every moment of it.”

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