Video by: Mic Smith.
In March 2012, poachers struck Kariega Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. After darting three rhinos with veterinary immobilization drugs — a quieter tactic than firing shots — the poachers hacked the rhinos’ horns off with machetes, inflicting massive facial trauma to the immobile but unanesthetized animals.
Will Fowlds, a wildlife veterinarian based in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, describes his horror upon arriving at the scene soon after the three rhinos were found, still alive.
"The degree of hacking and fighting that you’ve got to go through to remove that amount of flesh off a rhino’s face, the thickness of their skin, the toughness of the skull and the horn base that they’d hacked through, it’s really going to be a struggle. You’ve got to be a pretty determined poacher to hack away at an animal, particularly an animal that’s still alive," he says.
One bull died that night, but Fowlds cared for the two survivors, a male named Themba and a female named Thandi. Three weeks later, Themba died of an infection in a leg injury inflicted by the poachers.
Fowlds operated on Thandi to repair roughly 50 injuries to her face. She eventually recovered, and in January 2015 gave birth to a calf.
Fowlds has continued helping to pioneer rhino facial surgical techniques to treat survivors of poaching attacks, which have risen sharply in South Africa to feed Asian black markets.
See Mic Smith’s full feature: