And then I meet Thandi.
Thandi is a seven-year-old white rhino, one of three that were shot with tranquilizer darts before their horns were brutally hacked off. One died immediately, the other succumbed to its wounds and drowned in a watering hole two weeks after the incident, and Thandi miraculously pulled through after a series of operations and treatments by Dr. Fowlds.
When I first see her, she is out with two other female rhinos in a beautiful open plain scattered with gazelles, wildebeest, giraffes and other wildlife — a tranquil, natural scene.
It is an emotional moment for Dr. Fowlds, seeing his patient behaving normally after months of trauma — her wounds finally healing. Previously, she would hide in the bush in fear, still remembering her torment. Now, there is only the rim of a scar. Of course she looks strange without a horn, but many other rhinos here have had their horns removed to lessen the incentive to poach.
It seems tragic that we have to take away a rhino’s identifying feature, its horn, to try and stop people from killing them.
Dr. Fowlds shows us where he had found Thandi in a pool of blood, fearing her dead, and talks us through the painstaking rehabilitation. For each treatment, she needed to be tranquilized, a risky procedure that could have easily resulted in her heart stopping.
Thandi’s story has gathered support from all over the world, including Beijing, where Dr. Fowlds recently visited.
Dr. Fowlds corroborates what I had heard in Kenya: that private rhino owners are being hit by a downturn in tourism due to the poor global economy, while at the same time facing increasing security costs and threats to the safety of their rhinos from poachers.
Next, the WildAid team heads to Kruger National Park, the frontline of the rhino wars.