Thandi became a global anti-poaching icon after she survived having her horn hacked off five years ago. So when her two-year-old calf, Thembi, stepped out without her mummy, everyone at Kariega Game Reserve became a little anxious and worried – they thought Thandi had been hit a second time by poachers.
Then something magical happened.
We caught up with our Medivet Saving the Rhino Project Coordinator, Dr William Fowlds, to hear about the moment that had us all well up with tears.
“Kariega started to get worried as Thandi had disappeared for a number of days (which can happen), so they asked me to come and fly my drone to help find her and make sure no harm had come to her. This was the main thing on our minds – to make sure she was alive and not in any trouble.
I met a team at Kariega and we set out flying the area where she goes when she feels threatened or needs to hide away for a while. The wind was gusting badly, which made the search very tricky and by the time flying was reasonably safe, we only had an hour of good light left.
An hour later and there was still no sign of Thandi, but we had seen the rest of her crash, including Thembi. To cover large areas with an aerial camera, you need to fly quite high (80 metres) which also means that even a rhino becomes a spec on a screen and very tricky to spot, even in good light. It’s therefore essential to have a very good camera to record footage but even more important to have a quality screen with excellent resolution to maximise the chance of finding her in real-time.
Fortunately, thanks to Medivet – who sponsored the iPad that I use with the drone – and having the camera set to maximum light sensitivity, we were able to fly for an extra ten minutes after all useful light seems to have gone.
And what a momentous ten minutes it turned out to be! The final sweep back across very dense thicket vegetation on the way back to our home point, the faintest outline of a rhino rolled onto our iPad screen. I could hardly believe my eyes! We found Thandi. At that height. In that light. We could even see if she was dead or alive!
Thandi is spotted with just ten minutes to spare.
I dropped the drone to 50 metres above her and to our relief, she shifted her body position confirming that she was alive. That in itself was an amazing feeling, knowing that this very special rhino was at least moving around. But we still didn’t know why she had disappeared into the dense thicket.
The drone hovered over her and we stared into that screen, anxious for an explanation. And then suddenly, there he was! From under Thandi’s neck area, out popped the tiniest rhino miniature and we were elated.
What an amazing and wonderful surprise! The gift of a rhino baby delivered by one of the world’s most endearing rhino icons, Thandi. The very fact that this rhino who was severely hacked and left to die five years ago, and who survived against all odds was found, a needle in a haystack, alive and with a toddler at foot.
But there was more good news to come. What happened next wiped away our remaining fears that this baby may be weak or in some sort of trouble. As we watched from above, taking snaps from the iPad, this little bundle began to bump and nuzzle up against Thandi’s pendulous tummy. So small that he couldn’t even reach her udder to feed. His amazing mum responded by sitting down and then lying slightly turned to one side and moved her back leg out to the side, creating a little cove into which this little babe could move and start to feed.
Thandi's new bundle of joy appears and begins feeding.
We circled around this scene, absolutely thrilled by what we saw and elated at this incredibly good news. Later that week, when Daniel from Kariega was able to video the two of them in a road-way, we confirmed that he was a baby rhino boy and he was immediately named Colin. This event is so special in so many ways. The founder of this reserve, Colin Rushmere, passed away only days before we found this baby boy and it is very fitting that this special baby boy be named after someone who was such a visionary and a much-loved member of the community.
Thandi and Colin are happy and healthy.
May he live a long, safe and happy life, just as his name sake Colin Rushmere had done, and become the father of many.”
Thanks to your support and kind donations, you funded the iPad that helped find Thandi and her new baby rhino!
We’re so happy that Thandi, Thembi and Colin are happy and healthy, and we’re extremely proud of Will for helping Kariega Game Reserve with the search.
Thank you to Kariega Game Reserve for the images. #MedivetRhino