Chasing Rhinos in The Pilanesberg

Lets paint the picture: you’re running at full tilt through the bush trying to keep up with the vets. You’ve got a helicopter at eye level ahead of you, herding some very groggy white rhino. In the back of your mind you’re thinking that at any point, another member of the Big 5 could very easily grace you with their presence. You’re carrying your life’s worth in equipment to try and film all of this. Then, all off a sudden you come to a stop. Face to face with a 2 ton white rhino looking straight into your eyes. You watch him in absolute disbelieve. There is a wild white rhino stumbling around right in front of you. Having almost forgotten that you’re supposed to filming, you lift your equipment to actually capture all of this. The rhino stops, overbalances, and then falls to the ground, a meter or two from your feet. How would you define an adrenaline rush?

We headed up to the Pilanesberg National Park on the 8th of April 2017 to capture and film the darting of 7 white rhino. The conservation project, funded by an overseas corporate, was to dart the rhino, drill into their horns, and then insert micro-chips for tracking purposes. It’s sad that we have got to a stage where this sort of thing is necessary, but its a reality and is great to see some proactivity in the fight against poaching.

We stayed at the Manyane camp on the Saturday night (the 8th), to then be up and in the park by 05h00 the next morning. We joined the clients at the Bakubung Lodge, hopped into a Land Cruiser and made our way to meet up with the park officials coordinating the darting. It may have been cold, and very early, but the landscape was absolutely stunning.

 

People in safari vehicle at sunrise First light.
 

After the briefing, we were off. The speed at which everything happened thereafter was absolutely incredible. Within 20 minutes, 4 rhino had been darted from the helicopter, all in the same area and of the same crash. You can imagine the action.

Hot on the heels of the vets, we were then in there trying to capture the action on film. Imagine, running through the bush, not from wild animals, but at them. The moment that we arrived at the scene of the rhino will live long in the memory. They remain fully conscious throughout the process, but just become immobilised – the effects of a drug called m99. So, when you get there, you have 2 tons of white rhino, watching you as you navigate your way towards it before it falls to the ground. It was a very humbling experience. To see this strong and tough wild animal helplessly fall to the ground really highlighted its vulnerability.

White rhino lying down Defenseless.

The next three rhino were darted and tagged with relative ease. But if you thought chasing rhinos on the ground sounded exhilarating, doing it from the air was absolutely mind blowing. One of us was able to join the crew up in the helicopter for this next set of rhino. The feeling you get, looking down on a crash of white rhino, with a few G’s hitting you as the pilots banks at a near impossible angle was a feeling that’ll never be forgotten. It’s crazy how much of the park you can actually see from up there. We have always been so used to the view from the vehicles, or at least from a hide in the park. Being up in the sky, looking over the Pilanesberg National Park was an eye opening experience.

Helicopter flying over the Pilanesberg. Mid-flight.

Once the tagging and veterinary work had been completed, we retreated back to the vehicles to watch the rhino reawaken. White rhino are amazingly social animals. Once they’ve gained the sobriety to stand up again, their first reaction isn’t to charge or intimidate, it’s to find their companions. The three rhino huddled together, figured out their route to safety, and then were on their merry way.

A special mention has to go out to the officials whom coordinated the day’s events. Steve Perry and the team were exceptional! And a massive thanks to Team Building Alliance, the company that got us on board with this project. This sort of experience as a team build is second to none.

Filming and capturing this sort of thing on camera was a life changing experience. It’s adrenaline filled, it’s emotional, it’s eye opening, and it’s something that we have been extremely privileged to have been a part of. We will release a short video with some of the highlights in the near future, but in the mean time, a few more of the pictures that we got are below:

Helicopter taking off in the bush. Lift off.

Little moments before the vet takes aim.

Preparations on the ground.

Resistance.

A wounded bull refuses to go down.

Vulnerability.

The back of a rhino’s ear, readied for m99’s reversal.

Drilling into the horn.

Treating the wound of a large bull.

White rhino lying on the ground, defencelessly Silence.

Vet touching rhino in the wild A happy vet, and a job well done.

Reawakened.

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