WATCH: Dramatic rhino rescue at Kariega

Bull drowns, helpers use pulley, branches and tractor to get cow up slippery slope, writes Gareth Wilson

It took about 20 people, a tractor and a homemade pulley system to save a rhino cow from drowning after a bank of the Bushmans River collapsed. While the rescue effort paid off for the young rhino cow, her mate, a young bull, drowned before rescue operations could get into motion at the Kariega Private Game Reserve just outside of Grahamstown.

The tragic incident happened at about 3pm on Thursday when the bank of a small section of the Bushmans River – which flows through the reserve – collapsed, trapping the two rhinos in the water.

The two white rhinos, both about four years old, fell into the river as the bank gave way beneath their feet on Thursday and could not get themselves out of the water.

A three-hour rescue operation was launched after a staff member spotted the trapped animals near the Settlers Drift Lodge on the reserve.

Reserve general manager Alan Weyer said after the alarm was raised rescue efforts had immediately been launched in a bid to save the animals.

“The two rhino were spotted in the muddy water,” he said.

“The rhino often go down to the area near the river where they wallow in the mud.

“This time it would appear that a very small section of the side of the river bank collapsed into the river, resulting in both animals falling in.

“Unfortunately, by the time the alarm was raised and rescue efforts launched, the bull had already drowned and the carcass had lodged on a sandbank in the middle of the river.”

It is not known how long the animals were in the water before they were spotted.

Reserve manager Mike Fuller, who spearheaded the operation, sprang into action on hearing the plea for help.

Fuller roped in about 20 staff members and also called for a tractor to extricate the heavy animals.

“The vet was alerted and managed to get here in time to sedate the cow,” he said.

“Once she was sedated, a team of us got into the mud and managed to put a rope-harness type pulley underneath her and over her shoulders.

“A tractor was then used to pull the rhino out of the mud slurry onto the river bank.”

Weyer said the rescue had been chaotic at times but it was fortunate that the rhino managed to keep her head above water for the most part.

Staff grabbed branches to put under the rhino once she was sedated in an attempt to keep her head above water.

It is believe that the pair fell into the river on the opposite side from where they were rescued.

Settlers Drift Lodge head guide Wayne Howarth, who also assisted with the rescue, said he had been out looking for a herd of elephants when the news reached him.

“We arrived and the male had already drowned. We estimate that he had been dead for several hours,” he said.

“The cow was trying to get out of the river and her head was just above the water.

“Because a small section of the river bank had collapsed she could not get out.

“It is extremely slippery so she could not get traction.

“After the vet tranquillised her we managed to pull her out.

“Once she was on the river bank, we managed to get her on her feet and walk up the embankment.”

Asked how the section of river bank collapsed, Howarth said that that specific part of the Bushman’s river was about 30km from the ocean.

“With the full moon it is spring high and low tides. We presume that they went down there to wallow when the tide rose above its normal height, trapping them. This led to them falling into the river,” he said.

Yesterday morning staff used a bulldozer to remove the male carcass from the river.

“He was buried in the bush by midmorning.

“It is very unfortunate and everyone is very heartsore over this tragic incident,” Howarth added.

When staff spotted the saved rhino at 1pm yesterday she looked to be in good health.

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