This week is Storms rescue-versary. You may remember a couple of months ago I shared that I had the pleasure of seeing rehabilitated critically endangered black rhino Storm back in the wild. Today I thought I’d share the story of rescuing Storm. It was a crazy night that I certainly wont forget.
Everyone at the orphanage was settled for the night of elephant and rhino care and after many dry months, we had a powerful storm gracing us with heavy rain. As the evening went on as usual, we received a call about a black rhino calf in need of rescue. Soon after receiving the call, Angie and I packed the car and rhino ambulance with the emergency kits and set off. The rain was torrential and as a result, we could hardly see the front of the car, let alone the road ahead. The dirt roads were already beginning to wash away due to the rains so we knew it was going to be a long drive through the dark, stormy night. Even when we finally reached the tarred road, the drive was still slow as the continued rain meant the visibility remained terrible. It took us 4 hours of driving to reach the destination and after meeting with the wildlife vet we loaded the 3 month old black rhino calf into the rescue trailer.
I sat in the back of the rhino ambulance and watched over the tiny black rhino calf as Ang drove us back to the orphanage. The rain had begun to slow and at around 3am – after 6 hours of driving , we reached a flooded bridge that meant we couldn’t continue on. It had already been a very long night so we decided we would just wait at the side of the dirt road until sunrise but fortunately we didn’t have to wait that long as we received assistance from the reserve. So after some time of waiting for the almost unrecognisable bridge to be crossable we managed to continue on… It was a huge relief to finally make it back to the orphanage at 4:30 in the morning with the tiny black rhino. After parking up and making sure Storm was fine, Ang and I got a couple hours of sleep before getting back to work in the morning, caring for Ellie and the rest of the rhino orphans.
Storms rehabilitation was tough, he was struggling with internal parasites & aspiration pneumonia and needed intensive, around the clock care but when he finally turned a corner and his appetite grew, he began to gain weight and started playing we knew he’d pull through. Storm became good friends with Nandi, another black rhino orphan of the same age and the pair moved through their rehabilitation process together.
Despite the tough start to life, Storms rehabilitation was a success and he now lives wild & free.
Over the years of living in South African game reserves, I have had a lot of snake encounters with various species including Mozambique Spitting Cobras, Black Mambas, Puff Adders, Rhombic Egg Eaters, Spotted Bush Snakes and African Rock Python.
I wanted to share a different side to my adventures today so here’s 3 of my favourite snake encounter stories:
1) Mozambique Spitting Cobra.
This story always comes to mind because the situation resolved itself with surprising ease. I was outside with rhino orphan Ithuba and fellow carers Aly and Axel when we noticed something moving along the wall towards us and towards the rhino night room. As the sun was beginning to set we needed to keep a close eye on the snake to make sure it did not go into any of the care or preparation rooms. We sent a photo of the snake to a ranger and received immediate identification that the snake was a Mozambique Spitting Cobra (very dangerous).
As we weren’t in a position to remove the snake safely ourselves and we lived in isolation in the middle of a reserve getting someone to help us would’ve been a time-consuming process, we decided instead to simply block the snakes path, keep our distance and hope the Cobra would turn around and go back into the bush. It was a simple plan but our options were pretty limited and we were hopeful. We kept our distance while trying to keep a constant eye on the snake. The other thing we needed to do was keep ever-curious white rhino calf Ithuba away from the snake too. This was challenging as Ithuba knew there was something going on and wanted to take a closer look himself. Fortunately, after a bit of a tussle we managed to convince him to play with his favourite tyre bowl at the other side of the enclosure while we waited for the cobra to decide where it wanted to go.
Thankfully, upon meeting our blockade, the snake changed direction and began to pick its way back towards the bush. It was in no rush but gradually we watched it slither across the length of the outside enclosure, out between the slats of the enclosure poles and towards the bush. Satisfied the Mozambique Spitting Cobra was not in or near the night room we finished the evenings games with Ithuba, got sorted for nightshift and locked up. Of course, I was still VERY aware of the possibilities of snakes, spiders and scorpions as I slept on the floor in the preparation room or under the heat lamp with the rhino orphans.
2) Puff Adder relocation.
This was a pretty fun one. It was a really quiet day and while I was sitting in the office I heard one of our staff members screaming my name (bordering on hysterical). Not sure what the problem was I rushed outside to check everything was okay. I was met with two of our team screeching with terror and pointing towards the grass next to the car. Laying there, completely still, was a Puff Adder (very dangerous). There’s a lot of fear of snakes within the communities so I wasn’t at all surprised by the shouting, snakes are often killed on sight so I was very relieved they had kept their distance and shouted me instead of trying to kill the snake.
As Puff Adders are very dangerous and we had several people and animals living on the property I said we would carefully move it away from the orphanage. I closed our dog inside, grabbed the snake tongs and enlisted the help of Vikki (because there was no way I was doing this on my own and Viks had worked previously as a ranger). The main issue was that we couldn’t find a suitable container to use to put the snake in so we agreed on using the large, plastic bin that we used in the kitchen as the ‘transport crate’. Getting the Puff Adder into the bin was easy using the snake tongs and after we showed our team (who were now a lot less hysterical) the Puff Adder and gave them a bit of information about the species we carefully put the bin onto the back of the truck ready to drive far from the orphanage to release the snake.
Now, we had a decision to make. Although, it was more of a ‘rock, paper, scissors’ situation that Viks lost. That meant it was Viks job to sit at the back of the truck holding the bin upright and ensuring the lid of the bin stayed in place as I slowly drove us across the reserve. Despite driving slowly, the road was incredibly bumpy so I watched the rear view mirror tentatively as I picked my way across the reserve. We reached a spot that was far enough away without any issues and chose an area that seemed suitable to release the snake. The car slowly rolled to a stop and I jumped out to help Viks with the bin. We removed the lid and gently laid the bin down, letting the the Puff Adder go. We sat on the back of the truck as we watched the snake for a few minutes then we made our way back to the orphanage. Happy everyone was safe and the snake could continue on, unharmed.
3) African Rock Python sighting.
The third is a wildlife sighting that blew my mind. Angie and I were on a road trip and we made our way to Kruger National Park, after some careful thought we decided to stick to the more northern areas of the park. We’d been told we wouldn’t see as much wildlife in those areas but we liked the fact that there’s very few other people around and the idea that we’d have to work extra hard to spot wildlife. We stuck to our original idea and entered Kruger through one of the gates in the North region and see how we got on.
I’m not kidding, we’d been in the park for 10 minutes and OUR FIRST SIGHTING was an African Rock Python eating a duiker. WHAT. It was insane, we couldn’t believe it!!! We sat there absolutely fascinated, no other cars around, in fact we only saw one or two other cars in the whole day. This was the first time I’d seen a snake in the bush like this, the Rock Python was huge! The whole scenario was just unreal. As you can imagine, that started our day in a magnificent way and we went on to have all sorts of wonderful sightings including elephants, leopards and even a honey badger!
How’s the future looking for African Lions? Did you know the king of the jungle, the mighty lion, is being wiped out by humans…
African Lion are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist
and their population is decreasing. The decline in lion populations has been
huge, 100 years ago there were approximately 200,000 individuals and today
there’s estimated to be less than 23,000 lions left.
Lions face many threats including:
Illegal trade in body parts for traditional
Cases of lion poaching have been reported in Mozambique,
South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
There is no history of lion bone use in traditional medicine
in Asia but there is increasing cases of lion bone being used in place of tiger
bone as a result of the decline in tigers (around 3,900 individuals remain).
CITES lists African Lion as Appendix II and allow “export
for trade in bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and
teeth for commercial purposes, derived from captive breeding operations in
South Africa” with annual export quotas established and communicated annually.
In South Africa, there is something called ‘Canned Lion
Hunting’ where the captive lions are shot in a fenced area by ‘hunters’. These
lions have often been hand-raised by unsuspecting tourists who have paid for
the experience of cuddling, taking selfies with and even helping to raise the
cubs, thinking they are helping the wildlife in some kind of rehabilitation
type of scenario when in fact it is another way for the canned lion industry to
make money. Once the lions are older they are hunted within an enclosure. In
2017, an annual quota of 800 lion skeletons from captive-bred lions was approved
and in 2018 the figure was nearly doubled to 1,500.
Lion have lost 85% of their historical range. They play a
vital role in the ecosystem as they are top predators that dominate their
environment and help keep a balance in the number of prey animals. They also
help with disease control by taking the weakest members of the herd. Lions have
no natural predators.
How Can You Help Lions?
Raise awareness of the plight of lions
Do not buy wildlife products. The killing would
not happen if the demand was not there.
Do not participate in lion petting
Support conservation efforts and anti poaching
When Georgina was standing up her head was at about hip height and she was growing quickly. She’d nuzzle her velvety nose into my legs when she was hungry and if it wasn’t quite feeding time yet she’d let out a delicate sigh that held within it a soft high-pitched murmur.
Last week I shared a video of zebra Georgina waiting for her milk feed, yesterday I found an old, dog-eared book of stories I’d noted down and I’d written a few about Georgina. As they made me smile I wanted to share them with you, enjoy!
The first couple of days I spent with Georgie I was trying to win her trust and build a bond with her. Around a week or so before I arrived, the young zebra had followed rangers back to the staff camp and pretty much demanded she be rescued and cared for. As she was still young, she wouldn’t have survived alone in the wild and still needed to be drinking milk.
As Georgie had already been receiving care she had a handful of people that she trusted. This meant when I first arrived she would walk with me and act as if we were best friends but the second she clocked anyone who had been involved in her care she’d drop me like a hot potato and head straight in their direction. When this happened, I became some kind of weird zebra stalker. If Georgina saw someone who had helped look after her and they went into a room or office then she would just stand outside the door patiently awaiting their return and I had no choice but to awkwardly lurk with her. It was awful!! So, I quickly learnt that if I could get her a few steps away from the door she’d start following me again and we could continue our day.
One day it finally clicked and the young zebra realized she
was stuck with me. From there, our relationship blossomed. When Georgina was
standing up her head was at about hip height and she was growing quickly. She’d
nuzzle her velvety nose into my legs when she was hungry and if it wasn’t quite
feeding time yet she’d let out a delicate sigh that held within it a soft high-pitched
Georgina loved feeding time and as she was now my shadow she’d stand with me in the preparation room while I mixed the milk. However, sometimes the stripy fiend would get impatient and start pulling whatever she could get her teeth into down to the ground. The cloths, milk containers, plastic placemats… whatever she could reach, would be pulled onto the floor. If she was being naughty like this I’d end up moving her outside so I could mix the milk in peace. With that, she’d stand at the door, staring in at me – very unimpressed by my audacity. She might have had a very cute face but don’t be deceived, she could be very naughty when she wanted to be!!
After feeding time, Georgina would find a comfortable spot on the grass to lay down for a while. As she couldn’t be left alone, I’d sit by her side and read books while she slept. After a snooze, we’d head into the bush for a walk. Walks were my favourite part of the day and we’d spend spent a lot of time adventuring through the trees, walking along dirt paths forged by wildlife. Every now and then I’d break into a sprint to test Georgina’s speed and stamina, she’d have to be able to run when she goes back into the wild after all!
When we’d run, Georgina would push her front shoulder against me and kick back to defend herself against predators. Of course, once Georgina realized she could (very easily) outrun me and leave me for the predators she was off like a bullet leaving me in the dust. Fortunately, we were never chased by predators so Georgina never had the opportunity of actually leaving me for dead.
A big bonus of caring for Georgina was that she was more than happy to spend the nights in the company of the anti-poaching horses. This meant I could sleep in the comfort of my bed and wake up every few hours to feed her. This was a welcome change from sleeping on the floor or on camping stretchers! Some mornings when I’d go to let Georgie out the fur on her back would be damp and distorted from the horses licking and grooming her at night. It was very sweet!!
Caring for Georgie was an amazing experience. She was sweet, gentle and mischievous. I spent all day, every day with her and we went on many adventures together. A few days before my 21st birthday rhino orphan Nkonzo was brought to Rhino Revolution which meant I had less time to spend with Georgie but fortunately the mounted APU volunteers were happy to help with Georgina’s care too. As we would take Nkonzo on bush walks, Georgie would often accompany us and it was incredible. With a rhino and zebra in tow, we’d go walking around the African bush.
Once Georgina was old enough she was introduced to another female zebra and when they were ready, the two of them were released together!