Rhino Orphans – Wild & Free

Rehabilitating rhino calves has been a huge part of my conservation life. I have spent countless hours working with orphaned rhinos who have been left traumatized by poaching and the loss of their mother. I’ve had sleepless nights trying to bond with new arrivals, encouraging them to drink much needed milk or trying to settle them down as they pace and call for their mum. I’ve cried behind closed doors about the sad situation and the stark realities. I’ve had nights filled with fear due to high alerts of poacher activity. I’ve driven through the night to rescue orphans and bring them back to the orphanage. It’s been a long, tough road but earlier this year I was able to experience something amazing that showed our efforts were never in vain.

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On Saturday morning I met with Alyson, who I worked alongside at Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage back in 2015, and we drove to a beautiful game reserve in KZN. Our hope for the day was to see Ithuba, Thando and Storm in the wild.

To give you some backstory: Ithuba was the first rhino calf to be brought to the Thula orphanage; he was playful, gentle and cheeky. For a while, he was our only rhino and we cared for him around the clock; keeping him company, playing and feeding him a special milk formula every three hours. He was only around 5 months old when he was rescued and he needed 24/7 care; he hated the sound of rain on the roof of his room, he panicked when it was full moon and he had spent close to a week trying to survive in the wild without his mum. Then Thando arrived and something interesting happened… Ithuba and Thando had this instant connection. They were so entranced by each other and were desperate to be together, so much so that we thought they maybe actually knew each other. They had both been rescued from the same reserve but after we did the maths, they couldn’t have met as Thando was too young to have known Ithuba before the poaching incident. Despite this, the pair were drawn to each other. Whether there was something they sensed, something familiar about each other, we do not know but what we did know was that they were desperate to be together. Once Thando was big and strong enough we introduced them and they have been inseparable ever since.

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Storm is a black rhino and he was rescued in the middle of the night, the weather was so bad (hence his name) that we needed to rescue him and get him back to the orphanage otherwise it was unlikely he’d have survived the night in the wild. Storm was very vulnerable and his rehabilitation journey was incredibly rocky, there were times when he was so unwell that we worried he would not survive. When we hit a breakthrough and Storm started to gain weight, roll in the wallow and play we knew he was going to pull through.

Ever since the early days of raising a very young Ithuba, Aly and I used to talk about going to see him in the wild one day. It was something we had always wanted to experience and in 2019, it was finally happening.

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As we entered the gates of the reserve we were so excited at the possibility of seeing the orphans, at the same time we knew there was a chance that we would not see them. After all, they are wild and anybody who has been on a game drive knows there is never any guarantee of seeing wildlife. We hoped that we would be lucky on this day.

Grinning from ear to ear, we climbed into an open game viewer and the search began. During this drive we saw lots of incredible wildlife including a magnificent pride of lions on the banks of a dam but we had yet to see rhinos. As we drove along the weaving roads, the one thing on my mind were the rhinos Aly and I had come to know so intimately, who were now living somewhere on this protected reserve. We slowly covered the area where Ithuba and Thando were last spotted but there was no sign of them. “Come on, where are you ‘Thubes?” I thought again and again as we searched. As there were no signs of the pair, we had to continue the drive and leave the area the two white rhinos were most likely in. We were disappointed but we always knew this could happen, as we drove away Aly and I tried desperately to search for them but to no avail. We left the area, now turning our attention to looking for black rhino storm.

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We used the telemetry to track him and as we sat where the signal was strongest and waited, he emerged out of the bush. I could hear the branches breaking before I saw Storm, he was getting closer and closer. As he stepped into view I was so overwhelmed by the joy of seeing him that I began to well up. My eyes filled with tears and my heart burst with pride as this black rhino I had helped raise appeared out of the bushes. Despite all of my adventures in the bush, I have only ever seen black rhino in the wild twice and one of those was seeing Storm. He looked so well. He had grown a lot since I had last seen him and he seemed to be coping with life in the wild.

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Storm on day of rescue

As I watched him happily eating I thought about how small he was when we went to rescue him and all of the issues we had faced. I thought of the hard times and the special moments of sitting under the heat lamp with him and feeding times. All of the memories of him as a tiny baby black rhino flooded back as I watched him, now big and thriving in the wild. To see him, even for a few minutes, left my heart feeling so full. The tears flowed freely, tears of absolute joy. Everything we had put into the orphanage, it was all worth it.

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As the sun was setting, we began to make our way back to camp. Although we had not seen Ithuba and Thando, we had an amazing experience with Storm so all in all the drive was a success. Then, to our absolute delight we heard that the boys had been spotted. As I wiped away the tears from the Storm sighting, Aly and I exchanged excited glances as we may see Ithuba and Thando after all. We looked around, keeping our eyes peeled and then we suddenly caught a glimpse of two very healthy looking white rhino bums as they disappeared off into the bush. It was Ithuba and Thando. Still sticking together after all these years. They were so big now and they looked to be in great condition. Although we hadn’t seen them for long, to catch a glimpse of them against the backdrop of the setting sun was incredible.

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These rhinos, they live in the wild. If you were to see them you wouldn’t know they were raised in a rhino orphanage because now they live as they always should have. That is, and always has been, the goal.  Rescue, rehabilitate, release. To see these orphans, who’s stories and personalities dominated a part of my life, now living in the wild was a true honor. I am so grateful to have been able to visit the reserve where they now live and to have been lucky enough to actually see them. All of our hard work has well and truly paid off…

Thank you. To everyone who has supported rhino orphanages, to everyone involved in the rehabilitation of these amazing animals, to the team who now protect and keep a close eye on these wild rhinos… Thank you.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Addicted to Exotics: Reviewing the Pet Trade

This week my newsfeed has been filled with stories related to wild animals as pets; Monkey Rescued from Birdcage (UK), Wildlife Officers Rescue 550 Birds Stuffed in Tiny Cages for Pet Trade (India) and Lwiro Primates in Democratic Republic of Congo just rescued 2 chimps who’s families were killed for the bushmeat and/ or pet trade. So, what’s going on in the world? Why are people fueling the demand for exotic animals? Let’s take a closer look at the issue…

Unfortunately, the exotic pet trade is a growing concern as the internet has made buying and selling wild animals a lot easier. Millions of exotic animals are sold as pets across the globe each year.  So, what’s the problem?

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This huge demand for exotic pets means large scale poaching of wild animals. The trade is undermining conservation efforts as it fuels habitat destruction, deforestation and actively pushes species towards extinction.

Not only that, baby animals are often more profitable so poachers will usually kill the protective mother (and sometimes entire families too if it is a social species) so that it is easier to capture the baby. It is estimated that 10 chimps are killed for every one baby that is captured.

It’s not just the issues of where these wild or exotic animals have come from, there’s also massive welfare problems related to the transportation, care and housing as well as the safety risks associated with having a wild animal as a pet.

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The individual animals suffer immensely every step of the way and their species as a whole suffers too.

A wild animal in the pet trade will experience:

  • Overwhelming stress
  • Immense discomfort
  • Malnutrition
  • Loneliness
  • Deprivation

During transportation, the animals will change hands multiple times as they are illegally moved across countries in awful conditions e.g. stuffed tightly into plastic tubes or shoved into backpacks. The animals will battle to survive without food or water for days. In a Panorama interview, a German customs agent stated the smuggled animals they find have an 80-90% mortality rate.

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Image from US Fish and Wildlife Service

The animal may then end up in someone’s home confined to a cage to receive a lifetime of stress and improper care. It’s not just pets though, it’s ‘parts’ too so the animal could end up as food or ‘medicine’.

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Image from The Guardian

 

Ok so we’ve had a brief look at the environmental, conservation and welfare concerns but what about the risk to humans? The increase in wild animals as pets goes hand in hand with the spread of zoonotic diseases as well as an increase in the cases of animal attacks. You don’t have to look far before you find stories of owners (or their friends) being attacks by their exotic pets.

Oh, and before you try to point fingers at other countries, this is a global issue. For example, estimates suggest that there could be around 9,000 primates being kept privately in the UK.

There are countless issues to having wild animals as pets so whether you care about conservation, animal welfare or simply the health and safety of yourself and your family there are plenty of reasons not to keep exotic pets.

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We can do better. Much of the wildlife trade is a result of lack of knowledge, I believe that the majority of people are animal lovers at heart and wouldn’t involve themselves in such an industry if the truth of the situation was clear. Please, make informed choices.

If you need an animal in your life (I get it, animals are amazing) head to your local animal shelter and adopt. You will be saving a life and you’ll have a furry family member. Leave wildlife in the wild.

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Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Sources:
BBC News

PETA Asia

Duke Law Journal Online: Exotic Addiction

Freedom for Animals

Born Free

National Geographic
BBC Panorama Transcript

Listverse

Searching for Snares with Silent Wildlife Heroes

Working with rhinos and rhino orphans has meant a lot of my work has been surrounded by anti-poaching rangers. You don’t often see the rangers but you know they are around, you know they are out there patrolling and being a protective force… A line of defence. The work that these rangers do is underestimated by many. They walk for hours on end, they work in difficult, stressful situations under very challenging circumstances, they go for long periods of time without seeing family, they put themselves between poachers and wildlife…

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I’ve worked alongside these amazing individuals who give their lives to protect wildlife. I’ve been to poaching scenes, I’ve seen their heartbreak when a rhino loses its life. I’ve seen their commitment, their pride, their passion…

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I cannot speak for the anti-poaching rangers but I can share some of my experiences with you. While working at a rhino orphanage, I was invited to go on a snare sweep one afternoon with the anti-poaching unit at the reserve. Before I had worked with wildlife in South Africa I did not realize that snares were still extensively used by bush meat poachers. Unfortunately, they are and anti-poaching rangers are frequently pulling snares out of the bush in an effort to protect wildlife. Getting ready to head out in search of snares, I pulled on my boots and went with the rangers down to one of the dams. Before setting off, the rangers taught me a bit about tracks, signs of poacher activity to look out for and how snares are set…  We began patrolling an area close to a dam – snares are often set on game paths in the bush around dams because there is a lot of animal activity (the animals are coming to the water source to drink). We used hand signals to minimize talking on our patrol as there was a chance we would encounter poachers so we needed to work quietly.

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After an hour of walking we found the first snare – it was set up and ready to trap any animal that happened to walk the path. Snares are not species specific, they will trap whatever animal has the misfortune of walking through the deadly wire loop. That could mean tightening around the neck of a hyena, the body of an antelope, the leg or trunk of an elephant… The snare will tighten around whatever animal walks that path. We removed the snare as the rangers explained there will be more snares in this area as the person setting the snares will do a group of them in one area so they can increase their chances of catching something and make it easier to check the snares when they come back into the reserve. Interestingly, they also told me how you can differentiate between the poachers by looking at how they tie and set the snares. Each poacher has their own technique and this is something the anti poaching units pick up on as they gather snare after snare.

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As we silently continued, the ranger in front of me stopped as he pointed down at another snare. This one had been knocked down so was flat on the ground. We removed it and continued. Another few minutes of walking and I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. As I looked again, I saw the wire across the path. It’s amazing how easily a snare could be missed… The snare was across the path ready to catch unsuspecting wildlife. We removed the snare, putting the wire with the other two we had found. Our snare sweep continued as we moved into another area. We had been patrolling for hours now and with a handful of snares we had collected it had been a successful patrol, but we weren’t finished yet. I followed the team across the difficult terrain, by this point I was completely disorientated but they knew exactly where we were.

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As I walked behind team leader Mark, he turned to me with a grin and said, “are your legs tired yet?”. I laughed and said “No, I’m all good.” Which was obviously a lie. He immediately responded with, “Sure Meg, if you’re not tired why aren’t you picking your feet up properly anymore”. He could hear my feet subtly dragging as my legs became tired. Patrolling with these physically fit, highly skilled and well trained protectors was an honour and it gave me just a little glimpse into what they do. As we returned with snares in hand, I proudly showed the team back at the rhino orphanage the success of our patrol. I was thrilled. These rangers are selfless, they are committed, they are truly amazing.

Thank you to the rangers. We see you. We appreciate you.

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Council of Contributors latest project is to improve the Sera Rhino Monitor’s team camp, they spend hours every day tracking the rhino on foot and ensuring they are safe and well. The team camp does not have running water and is very basic, we would like to raise $11,000 to build them showers, toilets, a kitchen and a shaded seating area so when they come off of their long, exhausting patrols they can be more comfortable.

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Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Getting Perspective in Mozambique

I hadn’t been to Mozambique before this trip to help the elephant calf, after all the years I’d spent in South Africa you’d think I’d cross the border at least once but as time snowballs and there’s always something else to do I’d never made the trip. I’d heard many a fond word spoken of Mozambique, of the beautiful shorelines and friendly people, so much so that I didn’t feel in any way apprehensive as I made my way to a country I had never been to work with a team I hadn’t met. As it turned out, the team I worked with were some of the most genuine, passionate and down to earth people I have had the pleasure of crossing paths with.

Screen Shot 2019-10-02 at 18.43.46.pngIn my last week before heading to South Africa I was invited to join Conservation Manager and Fixed Wing Pilot Brian on an early morning patrol. He was picking me up just after 6am and told me to dress warmly. When I got up that morning, I already knew my only pair of jeans weren’t going to be dry from being washed the previous afternoon but I did honestly consider putting them on regardless. When I felt the damp, icy cold material against my warm skin I immediately changed my mind, instead opting for thin dark leggings that were definitely not created for warmth. As I pulled on a jacket, I made myself a coffee in the camp kitchen while waiting for Brian to arrive. Everyone else in camp was still waking up so I enjoyed the quiet and darkness as I sipped my coffee. I heard the rumbling engine of the approaching vehicle long before I saw the headlights through the trees.

Screen Shot 2019-10-02 at 18.57.51.pngAs I climbed into the passenger seat with a grin, Brian asked if I’d had coffee and whether I’d be warm enough. I nodded to both, not willing to admit my jeans were still damp and that this was my only outfit option. I was so excited to be going on an air patrol and to have this opportunity to see more the reserve, I’d previously only seen such a small yet breathtakingly beautiful fraction of the park. As we drove out of the camp and along the sand roads towards the airstrip the extent of the morning fog became clear. It was so thick and dense that we would have to wait for the sun to burn through it before we could take off.Screen Shot 2019-10-02 at 17.50.12.png

Once at the hangar, Brian did all of his checks and preparations for the flight while I watched the sun rise and waited for the vast blanket of white to lift. The thick morning dew clung to the grass in tight, perfect beads that made my shoes damp as I walked. After 20 minutes of listening to the birdsong and watching the fog gradually lift, we could get going.

I climbed into the two seater, door-less, savannah airplane and buckled my seatbelt. Brian handed me a camera to take photos from the sky and then he started flicking switches and reading displays, readying for the patrol.

We pulled on the headsets, made sure we could both hear each other and then we were ready to go. We slowly rolled to one end of the runway before turning ready for the take off. I stared out as we picked up speed and lifted into the air, passing over the fence that keeps wildlife off the airstrip.

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I watched as the world took on a whole new visual and the scenery opened out in front of me. The area I had spent all of my time in since arriving in the park was now reduced to just a minor piece of the puzzle, like an autumn leaf that has fallen from the tree. Nothing could wipe the smile from my face and the gratitude from my heart.

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The cold morning air that whipped through the plane did not bother me because I was so in awe of the view. Our first wildlife sighting from the sky was at least 15 hippos lazing on the banks of a watering hole. The views were endless and breathtaking – the deep green of tall, dense swamp and mangrove forests gave way to expansive savannahs scattered with dusty paths naturally worn in by wildlife, the grasslands were broken up by watering holes and split by the smooth curves of streams flowing swiftly across the landscape.

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We continued as we passed over another dense forest, only this time the forests were flanked by the pristine coastline. The crystal clear ocean kissed the sands and I felt as though I was in heaven. Having always been a lover of the ocean to see the vibrant blues of the water, the white wash of the waves, the band of golden sand and the vegetation that lay beyond it from the sky was nothing short of spectacular. The ocean looked like a watercolour I could only ever dream of painting.

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To my absolute delight, we flew along the waters edge. Looking down under us I saw a turtle swimming through the transparent water. I cannot tell you the last time I saw a turtle, I was ecstatic. Part of me wanted to stay here, suspended in the air watching the world go by. To stay and watch the turtle go about its day and see if any dolphins or whales pass by. We continued on our patrol, carrying on along the coast until we reached the parks boundary where we banked right.

We preceded to fly over Mozambique’s second largest lake – approximately 27 square kilometers in size.  There were a handful of wooden fisherman boats along one of the banks and a pair of fisherman out on the lake, completely dwarfed by its sheer size.

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As we continued along, I saw ripples in the distance. It was too far away to see the cause but as I looked through the zoom lens of the camera I saw two hippos, mouths open facing each other and another hippo further back with its head poked out of the water looking on at the tussling pair from a safe distance.

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The lake gave way to thick forest and we began to head back in the direction of the airstrip, now picking our way along grassy plains. We passed over a flock of over 200 Great White Pelicans who were all sitting on a small body of water surrounded by long grass, oh and not forgetting the yellowbilled stork who stood in the same patch of water with its long pink legs, white body feathers, black tail feathers, red face and large yellow bill.

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Our journey continued, as did the abundance of wildlife. We saw a small herd of zebra and then in the distance… a herd of elephant, made up of around 30 individuals including small calves. Even the herd looked dwarfed thanks to the expanse of the grasslands. As we closed the gap between us, the baby elephants were more visible as they stood close to their mothers sides. The elephants continued about their day, walking across the grasslands staying together and keeping the tiny youngsters close by. It was an amazing sighting.

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Among other wildlife, we saw wildebeest, buffalo, waterbuck, giraffe, crocodiles, a lot more hippos and more elephants before arriving back at the airstrip. How I had imagined that flight to be didn’t even come close to the reality, it was so much more.

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The reserve is breathtaking, abundant and wild. Rich in biodiversity and ecosystems. It is without a doubt one of the most divine experiences I have had. To fly over Maputo Special Reserve is an honor I will never forget.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Follow the Tracks

I’d been in Mozambique for a few days now caring for the young elephant (who had been nicknamed Zuali after the area she was found in). Thanks to the time we were spending together, she had begun to see me as part of the family. She’d now walk with me and follow me meaning we were able to go for long walks in the bush during the day. Walking was important to help keep Zuali busy, being a young elephant without a herd is not an easy thing for such a sensitive soul to handle. Walking together and experiencing the sights and smells of the bush helped to keep her life enriched.

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In the early hours of the morning, the air was cold and we would bundle up in coats while Zuali slept in blankets awaiting the sunrise. Just before 6AM the sun would rise through the trees, casting a fiery glow on the camp and burning through the morning mist, clearing the dew that clung to the grass and causing the animals to stir from their slumber. Zuali was not much of a morning elephant. She would stay snuggled up in her blankets until the sun had been watching over us for at least half an hour, giving everything a chance to warm up before she would be ready to go for a walk. By then, we were already on the borderline of no longer needing to wear coats as the temperature was rising fast and quickly setting us up for another 25 degree day.

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Now awake, Zuali would be ready to head out. There is something so magical about walking along the sand roads and game paths, walking barefoot with no cars or people in sight. The deep sand would tumble beneath the weight of our footsteps, leaving perfect tracks where we walked. To walk with a baby elephant is truly blissful, taking in the surroundings, no rush, no real destination in mind, eyes up away from screens and fully enjoying all that nature has to offer. As we’d walk, I’d look at the tracks of the animals who’d walked the same path before us, in the night and the early hours of the morning; the vervet monkeys, nyala, impala…

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Meg & Zuali’s tracks in the sand

One track that I would see at least a few times a week was the track of wild elephants. Sometimes it would be a large, lone bull crossing the path heading towards the waterhole. Other times it would be a herd of females and youngsters. The large round tracks have a pattern of lines and cracks from the sole of the elephants foot, which in that sense is not too dissimilar to the tracks of rhino.

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Fresh wild elephant track

I always loved comparing the tiny tracks of Zuali to the tracks of the wild elephants. Of course, seeing fresh tracks of wild elephants made me a little cautious but that didn’t take away from the awe of seeing first hand the sheer size of them. The huge tracks showed so clearly the path that had been walked by these gentle giants mere hours before I stood there with a hip-high baby elephant by my side. I’d watch Zuali as she’d investigate the tracks, smelling them and showing great interest. It was curious to see how Zuali reacted to fresh elephant dung… she’d stop for a moment or two to smell it and then she’d very carefully go out of her way to walk around the dung rather than over it.

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Zuali & a fresh wild elephant track

Every so often, Zuali would grumble, reach up to touch me with her trunk or rub her head against my legs. Elephants are incredibly tactile and this small touch was simply reassurance.

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As we walked alongside the wild elephant tracks, I learnt something fascinating… Samson, a very experienced elephant carer (understatement) told me that if you measure the circumference of the elephant track and multiply this by 2 you get the shoulder height of the elephant. WHAT?! Of course, I instantly tried this with Zuali using some long pieces of grass as measuring tape and IT WAS SPOT ON. Now, as we walked, we measured the tracks of the individual elephants and discovered how tall they were. How amazing is that?!

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Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Elephant Orphan Care in Mozambique

Approximately 8 hours after receiving the call about the baby elephant, I was boarding a flight from the UK to Mozambique. A couple of days prior, DAG counter-poaching unit and Saving the Survivors had rescued a dehydrated and emaciated elephant calf who had been found wondering around alone within the Maputo Special Reserve. With very limited options, they transported the calf to a staff camp within the reserve and the DAG team provided her with around the clock care while waiting for permits to move her across borders to an elephant orphanage. Although the details I received were patchy, there was a baby elephant in need and that was all I needed to know.

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Upon arrival, I joined James – the DAG helicopter pilot – and 2 volunteers in caring for the female elephant calf thought to be just a few months old. As I arrived at the camp in the evening and I was getting to work right away I had to very quickly remember the route between the elephant’s room and my tent as I certainly didn’t want to stray too far from the path in total darkness… Particularly as I could hear the unmistakable grunt of hippo just the other side of the tents and the deep rumble of wild elephant close by as they broke branches and pushed their way through the trees near the camp.

I put my bags into my tent and rummaged around for my head torch as I laughed at how unprepared I was for camping – fortunately I had acquired a sleeping bag to use and I was lent a very warm jacket to take the edge off the nightshifts (thanks James!!). After locating my head torch, I zipped up my tent and retraced my steps back to the kitchen where the team were arranging the shifts for the night ahead. We decided that I would shadow the beginning of the first shift of the evening and then take the 3AM shift. With the shifts sorted, I went to the elephant’s room to be introduced to her and be shown how to make the milk mixture that she was guzzling down every two hours.

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The barely hip-high elephant was still sleepy from her nap when we arrived but as soon as she realized we were mixing milk she perked up, pushing against the door with surprising force. Her expressive eyes were encircled by a baby blue ring, her body enveloped with a soft blanket that was loosely tied in place and her inquisitive trunk was handled with relative confidence, for a youngster. She had nasty grazes along her cheeks which were thought to be a result of her rubbing herself against things but aside from that there seemed to be no physical injuries.

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Meeting this gorgeous elephant immediately melted my heart; she was sweet, good natured and had no problem at all drinking the milk we made for her. This came as a pleasant surprise, I’d experienced months on end of pushing, shoving and bruises when feeding Ellie (the young orphaned elephant I intensively nursed for 6 months in South Africa) but this elephant was far more agreeable… She would hold her trunk up and stand more or less in place to drink her milk.

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I was relieved that the little elephant was happy to drink milk from me from the get go but I knew it was going to take a few days of me being around until she fully accepted me as a member of the herd and would happily walk with me through the bush. Until we’d reach that level of trust, I’d be spending lots of time with her and would join her on all of her walks with the other carers so she could get used to me being around.

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After the early evening feed and introduction, I used my headtorch to guide me through the darkness back to my tent. I made a conscious effort to remember the route as I would be walking it again at 3AM to take over the early shift. With an alarm set to wake me at 2:52AM (yes, those extra 2 minutes do matter!) I fell asleep, slightly cold, not exactly comfortable but full hearted and inspired.

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Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

The Beginning: Rhino Orphanage Volunteer

People often ask me how I got involved in wildlife rehabilitation and working with rhinos, usually wondering if there is a path they can follow to experience the same things… As this is the first of the Conservation Stories series and today is coincidentally six years since I first flew out to South Africa to volunteer at a rhino orphanage, I figured we really should start at the beginning.

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After studying a Diploma in Animal Management I was vaguely aware of the state of the planet and the fact that we needed to actively protect and conserve it. I decided to take some time out of studying to delve deeper into the reality of the situation and gain some hands on conservation experience – I claimed this was going to be a “gap year” but we are 6 years down the line now…

As my “gap year” began, I was keeping up to date on conservation issues and a rhino orphanage caught my eye. They were the first dedicated rhino orphanage in South Africa, and – unable to resist- I contacted them to see if they were accepting volunteers… Spoiler alert… They were! 😉

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The organization had just celebrated their first anniversary, they spent their time rescuing and rehabilitating rhino orphans – many of which had been orphaned through poaching – and at the time of me reaching out to them they had been extremely busy with not enough staff but lots of rhino orphans in need. They needed more hands on deck so, on this day six years ago, I was boarding a flight to join them as a volunteer (note: I did not pay to volunteer. I covered the cost of my flight and the orphanage offered me food and board in exchange for work).

By the time I’d reached the rhino orphanage, been briefed on the security protocols and had realized we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere I did, for a fleeting moment, question my decisions but this apprehension soon passed as I was introduced to the rhinos for the first time.

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I was 18 years old and my life changed the moment I saw the rhino orphans. I had to pinch myself because it just didn’t seem real. These miniature tanks squealed a high pitched cry when they wanted milk, they stared into your eyes with the most recognizable expressions and they were gentle despite their strength. The team on the ground was small and incredibly committed to the orphans, with more orphans than pairs of hands I was quickly shown the ropes; learning the day to day routines of the rhino orphanage such as how to mix the special milk formulas for each of the rhinos, how to clean the rhino rooms and how to keep the records… I built bonds with the younger orphans and I started to take on nightshifts, as the work of a wildlife rehabilitator is around the clock, and we would need to feed the rhinos every 3 hours.

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Although the hours were long, the jobs were often messy and we often faced challenges, I felt like my life had purpose. Everything we were doing, we were doing for the rhinos. I was supposed to stay for 3 months as a volunteer but I stayed for close to 6, only leaving because my visa demanded it. In that time, 3 more orphans (2 white rhino and 1 black rhino) were brought in to us and there was no doubt that more would follow them.

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I had to leave but in those 6 months I had fallen irrevocably in love with South Africa, wildlife and this kind of hands-on work.

After this initial experience, I returned to the UK and volunteered with Sea Shepherd, campaigning in the Faroe Islands against the killing of Pilot Whales. I was then called back to South Africa to be part of the core care team at a rhino orphanage and from there I spent several years working in rhino orphanages.

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The poaching was (and continues to be) ongoing and I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Council of Contributors – a non profit I am proudly a director of –  was created in 2017. We are dedicated to supporting the amazing people and organizations down on the ground that are protecting, rescuing, treating and conserving rhinos. After working in the field and knowing how much of a difference even seemingly simple equipment donations can make I knew CoC could help make a positive impact… and we are!

This rundown plus some emergency call out work – more or less – brings us to now. I know that was pretty brief but we’ll save the finer details for another time. I just wanted to give you an idea of how I became involved and what has brought me to this moment, volunteering all those years ago was truly invaluable for me… it not only gave me a far deeper insight into the realities, it also gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded, passionate people and make vital contacts within the world of wildlife conservation and rehabilitation.

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As many of you know, a few months ago I was called out to assist with the care of an orphaned elephant calf that was found and rescued in Maputo Special Reserve, Mozambique. This is where the Conservation Stories will start from next week.

If you want to do something for wildlife and conservation, my advice to you is to find what you are passionate about, make the contacts and be willing to give your time for the cause.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

 

 

Completing the First 40km

On Saturday we hit the £500 fundraising target that was set to determine whether or not I would be walking the Wales coastline dressed as a rhino. I am so grateful to everyone who has donated so far and everyone who helped us hit that target. I went to bed feeling grateful for the support and excited for the challenge ahead.

On Sunday, I began to feel overwhelmed by the challenge. Realising just how huge the challenge is and considering how crazy it was to think I could do it dressed as a rhino. I’ve realised a challenge of this nature is very difficult to plan and the reality of this was dawning on me. Could I really just show up and hope for the best? This started as an idea in January, it’s an idea I loved the thought of and I began to plan it and figure out if it was do-able from the beginning of February and now not only had I announced it but I would be starting the 1,400km walk very soon.

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As I sat there feeling all these fears and questions bubbling up, I checked the weather for the week and saw the following few days were set to be wall-to-wall sunshine. I threw some clothes into a bag, grabbed my fresh out of the box rhino costume and drove 5 hours up to a friends house in Liverpool. Why? Because on Monday morning I wanted to start the Coastal Path challenge and stop the overthinking in its tracks. What’s the use in sitting at home and going over it in my head? I can do this, I can absolutely do this dressed as a rhino, even if it’s crazy.

On Monday, Katie joined me for the day and we headed to Chester. We made our way from the train station to the start of the coast walk. The goal was to walk the 20km from Chester to Flint. The walk began with a very straightforward 8km alongside the River Dee, this route was surprisingly busy with cyclists and walkers and provided a great opportunity for some chats about my choice of outfit and the cause I was walking for. The smiles and support so early on was very encouraging. The only negative of walking along a straight cycle path along the river was that there was nothing around to gauge distance so at times it felt like we were hardly making any progress at all as the views remained almost exactly the same.

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Just past the 8km mark the walk crosses a bridge and then mainly follows the roads, although we did end up back next to the river for another kilometer further down the route. We struggled to find and follow the Wales Coast Path signs once we were away from the river’s edge so there is a good chance we ended up creating our own route for part of the day. At least walking alongside the road dressed as a rhino provided us with some entertainment. Each car that passed us brought with it new reactions… Some people waved, some beeped, almost everyone smiled and a few just looked utterly bewildered. The only downside to walking next to the road, particularly on the main road leading to Flint was the dust that was kicked up by the large trucks. Not quite the fresh coastal air we had in mind that’s for sure. The last 4km were a struggle, the soles of our feet were sore and walking alongside the road did not provide the most exciting or stimulating surroundings. Even once we passed the “Welcome to Flint” sign we had another 2 kilometers or 30 minutes to walk but when we finally made it to Flint castle we were thrilled.

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After a much needed shower (I already understand why people don’t wear full one-piece costumes for hikes) and a good nights sleep I woke up ready to hit the trail again. I was facing this walk alone, fortunately my feet did not feel as sore anymore and I felt ready for the day ahead. I started at Flint castle (where we ended the previous day) and I followed the more obviously signposted route. This time the walk was far more coastal and had beautiful views almost continuously.

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There were even a couple of look out points and several pieces of artwork including the “Big Flintshire Guardian” which is a solider made of timber looking out towards Hilbre Island.

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As well as an impressive locally made jubilee dragon beacon that stands proud in Bagillt.

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The sun was shining throughout the day and the route was relatively quiet, but the people who did cross my path couldn’t resist stopping for a chat. “That’s a funny outfit to wear hiking!”

Towards the end of the hike the route hugs the main road which meant I could get a new lease of energy from all the people waving and beeping at the rhino walking along the roadside! As the sun was setting, I completed the 20km walk and it was no surprise that I finished the day with sore feet and some well-earned blisters.

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These first few days have given me a good idea of what to expect and have allowed me to think about the kit I need to make the walk even more effective, spreading the message of rhino far and wide. To be honest, I can’t wait to get back on the trail in my rhino outfit.

I think the first few weeks of this challenge are going to be the “toughening up” part where my body gets used to the long walks and carrying a rucksack of camping gear and food. I’m so glad I’ve completed the first 40km of this hike and I’m very excited for the remaining 1,360km!!! Head over to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/coexistwithrhinos to support this walk and follow @coexistwithmeg for updates.

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With love & gratitude,
Coexistwithmeg ♥

Coexist With Rhinos

Starting March, I will be embarking on a 75 day walk around the entire coastline of Wales. This 1,400km walk is to raise awareness of the plight of rhino and funds for Council of Contributors – a non-profit dedicated to supporting the people down on the ground helping to save rhino from extinction.

I will do this walk DRESSED AS A RHINO if we can get £500 raised by February 25th!! 

To donate please head to my Justgiving page.

If you would like to follow the progress of the walk please follow my Facebook Page, Instagram or Youtube. I will be posting regularly on these pages with updates.

I am doing this walk in support of rhinos, having worked closely within rhino conservation for over 5 years I know just how much of a difference this fundraising will make.

Thank you,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
#coexistwithrhinos

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Packed Protein Bowl (vegan)

Preparation Time: 10 minutes       Servings:  2
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

This is a perfect option for lunch – it’s nutritious, delicious and doesn’t take long to make. The lentil, rice and avo combo is perfect and it’s guaranteed to leave you feeling full.

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Ingredients

¾ cup uncooked rice
1/2 tin peas
Lentil base sauce: (1 cup dried whole lentils
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup water or vegetable stock)

1 ripe avocado
Juice from ¼ of a lemon
Salt & pepper

Method

  • Make a batch of lentil base sauce – you can do this the day before or use leftovers if you are in need of a quick bite to eat or feel free to make it fresh for this recipe.
    If you are making the lentil sauce specifically for this recipe, start with this first as the lentils will need to cook for slightly longer than the rice. Once the lentils have been simmering for about 10 minutes, start prepping for the rice.
  • Boil salted water, once boiling add the rice and stir occasionally
  • After 10 minutes, drain the water, rinse the rice and then cover with fresh water and put back on the heat to boil.
  • Once the rice is cooked (another 10 or so minutes), drain the remaining water and mix in the 1/2 tin of peas. Cover and leave to one side.
  • Once the lentil mix is warmed up and ready, portion the rice and pea mix into bowls.
  • Spoon the warmed up lentil mix on top.
  • Top the dish with slices of fresh avo, a large pinch of salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
  • Dig in and enjoy!

This bowl is seriously moreish. The avocado perfectly rounds up the dish and brings everything together. Every mouthful is packed with flavour thanks to the zingy squeeze of lemon. Enjoy and feel great inside and out.