While working on a story about the recent spate of rhino poaching in the Laikipia area, the conservators of Ol Pejeta, East Africa‘s largest rhino sanctuary, had invited me to watch the relocation of a female northern white rhino. A truck designed specifically to transport animals would take the 30-year old northern white rhino, Najim, from the wild to an enclosure where she and a younger male will hopefully mate.
The northern white rhino are even larger than the white rhino of South Africa. Their habitat once included the Congo, Uganda, and southern Sudan. Only seven northern white rhino remain in the world; two are in a zoo in San Diego, one in a zoo Czech Republic and four here at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000 acre conservation area. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy transported by plane Najim and her daughter from the zoo in Czech Republic. The pair in San Deigo zoo aren’t able to reproduce and one of the pair in Czech zoo died.
The only chance of ensuring the survival of this species of rhino lies in hopes that Najim and her young mate reproduce.
The distance of the relocation was short as was the process of darting, drugging her. By the time I got there the vet had already darted her by hand. They didn’t need a gun since she’s quite tame. But they had to belly crawl in the grass and dart when they were within reach of her.
In the video you see Ol Pejeta rangers and reserve police helping the tall, lanky South African zoologist and vet, Dr. Pete Morkel, try to prod Najim inside the crate that a crane lifts onto the 16-ton flat bed truck.
What proved most labor intensive was coaxing her to take one small step from the ground into the crate — a giant leap for a half-drugged beast with short legs.
Morkel stuffed cotton in Najim’s ears and draped a towel over her eyes to mitigate sounds and stimulus that would otherwise add to an already traumatic experience for the beast.
Before loading her, Morkel took the opportunity to clip her hooves, a difficult thing to do when a rhino is awake.
Najim was sedated enough to be relaxed but perhaps too much to find the will or balance to take that one tiny step.
While a truck and a few men in front of the crate pulled the rhino from outside the front end of the crate, the vet’s wife, Diane, nudged her from behind with her four-wheel drive safari rig.
Nothing seemed to work. When Diane said a wooden ramp would have been ideal, a couple of rangers began digging dirt to build one. Of course, that would have taken ages.
Morkel shook his head flummoxed that the job was proving to be so difficult when he knew Najim as a “sweetie”.
Once someone turned off the engine to the massive truck and everyone stood still trying to figure out what to do, Najim lifted one leg onto the crate. Clearly, without so much noise and confusion, she relaxed, felt safe, and knew what to do.
Still with one leg up she didn’t quite have the confidence and balance to lift the other leg. The rangers began rocking her gently from side to side to give her opportunity to find her balance. Soon after she lifted the other leg onto the crate.
The rest of the job was all downhill. The next uphill battle is getting the two to mate — you can’t hurry love.