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Tree saves orphaned rhino
15 Sep 2011
Hilda Fourie

A THREE-WEEK-OLD white rhino calf was trapped for at least eight hours in the fork of a young thorn three after its mother, named Alpha, was shot by poachers on a game farm in Assen, near Pretoria.

The calf ran away blindly from the poachers after one of them slashed its head with a panga. The calf ran into a bush a few metres away from where the poachers had shot the cow in her heart and head, and ended up with his head trapped in the V-shaped fork of a young tree.

In its desperate attempts to escape the calf had pawed deep grooves in the ground around the tree and had rubbed its neck raw against the trunks, causing his head to swell up.

A rhino cannot move backwards.

The owner, Neels van Rensburg, said that when he arrived at the carcass of the cow he could hear the pitiful bleats of the calf.

Alpha was one of the first rhinos that Van Rensburg bought. He said the poachers would have killed the calf as well if the tree hadn't trapped its head. Poachers usually shoot the calves because they keep trying to nuzzle the dead cow while the poachers cut off the rhino horn.

"I heard the little one cry, I saw it was trapped and was hurting, but I could not do anything until the vet arrived," Van Rensburg said.

Louis Greef, a vet from Thabazimbi, two helpers and a game ranger calmed the calf by plugging its ears and putting a blindfold over its eyes. It took half an hour to lift its head free of the fork.

After it was freed the calf was put on a drip and loaded onto a trailer.

Greef, who specialises in wildife in Limpopo province, said that since May he has received a call every four days on average about a rhino that has been shot. About a month ago another white rhino cow and her calf were killed on Van Rensburg's farm.

"Few people get so angry at the poachers like we do who work on the scene. It does not help that the poachers get caught, because they walk free. They must be shot and killed. People out there do not know what is happening. It is chaos and it will not end," said Greef .

Van Rensburg suspects the poachers are part of a group of six who were caught earlier on his farm. Two of the men were linked to rhino poaching in Limpopo, but four were released.

Greef and Van Rensburg agree that the police should dedicate a team to investigate all cases of rhino poaching. Greef said there is no co-ordination between cases.

"These rhinos are like children to me. Other people smoke, use drugs or fish. I have rhinos," said Van Rensburg. "Only last night [Monday] this cow and her calf came to eat lucerne at my house while I sat on the stoep.Unfortunately I may not cut off the nose of the donder [poacher] or kill him."

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