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February 28, 2012

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A Living Carcass

An account of the recent poaching incident at Borakalalo.

by Elise Daffue, Founder of StopRhinoPoaching.com ( written 17 Feb 2012)

rhino tusk poach
Still alive after a week!

rhino tusk poach
The trees around us were full of flies.
 
Apart from the vicious attack to his face and a gunshot wound to the head, the rhino also suffered two other injuries. In some incidents, poachers chop the upward facing eye - thought to be an act of superstition - and the spine of the rhino.

rhino tusk poach
The gunshot wound.

rhino tusk poach
This eye was blinded by the chop.

rhino tusk poach
The single, deep chop to his spine with a lot of run-off down his sides.

For those of you that haven't been there, I don’t think I can adequately describe what a rhino crime scene feels or smells like. Nor do I have words for the thousands of bloated flies that hold vigil in the trees all round you, lazy, almost tame, waiting for their gap to feed on yet another victim of man's greed. This morning’s trip to Borakalalo, just outside Brits in the North West Province has left me shattered – a numbing cocktail of absolute horror and total disbelief at the extent to which a human being can become so inhumane and savage.
 
We could smell him long before we saw him, the bush so dense that even the chopper had battled to find him. Nothing I have ever experienced could have prepared me for what lay immobilized before us - for he could only be described as the still living carcass of a poached rhino.
 
Breathing through a writhing mass of maggots and blood, his exposed sinus passages wheezed and struggled. They had cut him deep, wide and quickly, after a single shot to the head which hit his spine and knocked him out – but didn’t kill him. That was last weekend, and today being Friday meant a week of agony beyond any comprehension.
 
Wildlife vet Dr Louis Greeff, his assistant Willem, helicopter pilot Pieter Breugem Jnr and the anti-poaching team tried to pull the weak and dehydrated bull to his feet. They tried numerous times, in different directions, letting him rest between each attempt just in case by some sheer miracle it would make a difference. He couldn't stand up. During one of these breaks Louis flushed the gunshot wound, guiding the plastic tube through which the disinfectant is administered all the way along a trajectory that ran deep into the rhinos head.

rhino tusk poach

Louis then tackled the facial wounds, spraying the maggot fest with I can’t remember what, causing a mass exodus from the sinuses that resulted in a rapid die-off. Waves and waves still kept coming. 

rhino tusk poach

We had been thinking that maybe, just maybe, if the bull got up and could be walked down to the awaiting trailer, by some miracle he’d have the slightest hope of surviving.

rhino tusk poach

The team did their best, but it was not to be. Louis soon discovered that the rhino’s top lip was paralysed, all the nerves to this area sliced out with his horns. The maggots were also to blame for their share of the damage, having eaten out all the soft flesh and leaving but bare shards of bone. Tucked under his loose top lip we found rolls of fresh grass which he’d been unable to get into his mouth to chew. So for all these excruciating  attempts to eat, he'd been slowly starving away.
 
After talking to Eric and Rusty from North West Parks, what happened next was quick and final. Louis took a R1 rifle, aimed it dead centre at the rhino’s forehead and pulled the trigger.
                                          
The shock wave shook the bull's body only once. The emotional shock of experiencing his precise moment of death shook me entirely and instant tears flowed uncontrollably. Our small group had witnessed what could rate as one of the worst rhino poaching incidents to date.  
 
I said goodbye to a rhino I had never known. I scratched behind his still warm ear on that soft spot that tame rhinos so enjoy. I stroked his face, rubbed his back and promised that no matter what we'll all keep on fighting.
 
Butterflies had been delicately fluttering around us, an ironic beauty to be found at most poaching scenes, attracted by the body salts of our now dead rhino. The vast swarm of patient flies took flight, dung beetles flew in, and as we walked away mother nature stepped in to claim him.
 
We are up against an army of savages who have sold their souls to the devil himself. 
 
Background

Borakalalo’s anti-poaching unit is active 24/7 and comprises of specialized rangers for whom I have the deepest respect. StopRhinoPoaching.com will continue to support these dedicated, fine men with everything we can.
 
The long grass and thick bush cover gave the rhino ample hiding place in the reserve. He could quite easily have died days from now without ever having been seen. 
 
To the best of my knowledge, there have been 9 cases of rhinos reviving after having had their horns hacked out. There could well have been more. Of these, I think only 3 have survived. 
 
Messages

To Louis and team, and especially Louis who had to face that final moment, my heartfelt thanks. Let's pray that we never see anything on this scale of cruelty and brutality again.
 
To every person out there actively involved in this war, please keep fighting!
 
To the South African Government: until you catch a proper wake up our rhino will continue to fall. How difficult is it, really, to allocate additional law enforcement resources and put effective rhino protection strategies in place?? We are 5 YEARS into the poaching epidemic and it only gets WORSE!! The guys on the ground are working tirelessly, but be they rangers or investigators they are NOT being given the resources they need from the structures higher up. Mr President, respectfully, a species is being exterminated on your watch.


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