The massive problem of rhino poaching in Southern Africa kills hundreds of these endangered animals each year and leaves more traumatised, bloody and barely alive after the horn has been savagely hacked off.
Established in 2012 by veterinarian Dr Johan Marais, Saving the Survivors’ main focus is caring for rhinos that have fallen victim to poaching and other traumatic incidents. Fulfilling its promise of ‘creating hope from hurt’, the project has directly saved more than 250 rhinos and indirectly it has saved hundreds more, via the training of other vets through its workshops.
After around 50-million years on the planet, the entire rhino species is on the brink of extinction. The latest estimate of the global rhino population is 15 000 White, 4 500 Black, 3 500 Indian, 67 Javan and less than 50 Sumatran. South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s remaining rhino population.
“We have lost more than 1 000 rhinos a year for five consecutive years, and 7 166 in total since 2005,” says veterinarian Dr Zöe Glyphis, who works alongside Dr Marais. “It is important to remember these stats do not include rhinos that are injured and only die at a later stage with their horns intact. It also does not include the unborn calves of pregnant cows.”
She goes on to explain rhinos in captivity live far longer than rhinos in the wild. The oldest known southern White rhinos on record were a bull named Charly and a cow named Macite, which both lived to the age of 53, in a German zoo and a New Orleans nature institute respectively.
“If poaching continues at the current rate, wild rhinos in South Africa will be extinct by 2030,” says Glyphis.
“A recent publication states we will lose one-third of all land mammals to extinction by 2050. Rhinos in captivity and private reserves, however, will probably survive just fine. Which is why secure sanctuaries and intensive protection zones for these animals are so vital.”
Saving the Survivors remains neutral on the pro/anti-trade argument.
“For the simple reason that there is no easy or quick solution to curb rhino poaching,” says Glyphis. “It is a multi-factorial problem that requires a multi-factorial solution. Our focus is on saving the rhino. To educate the public on the importance of taking ownership of our heritage, and understanding why we need survivors to be part of our future.”
Whilst the treatment of rhino poaching victims dominates most of their time, Saving the Survivors has also seen a spike in elephant poaching, so Glyphis says they anticipate treating more elephant patients in the near future.
“We have seen an increase in snaring cases as well,” she continues. “This is mainly lions, wild dogs, and leopards.” With the ever-present threat of viral diseases like rabies and distemper affecting wild carnivores, Saving the Survivors dedicates time to vaccinate these animals. Other routine work includes collaring and translocations of cheetahs and wild dogs.
“Unfortunately we see the results of some of the most ruthless attacks on our precious wildlife,” says Glyphis. “But as trained professionals, we are taught to put our emotions aside and get the job done; to do what’s best for the animal.”
She says they draw strength and encouragement from the team of incredible people who make up their support structure, and it is the success stories that ultimately make the most impact on all of them.
An important part of tending so closely to these survivors is the intense research that can be done. For instance, up until recently, very little was known about how to treat a rhino with such horrific injuries. It is now apparent that these animals have a very high pain threshold, and will carry on breeding as normal, whilst recovering from their injuries.
For almost 30 years, Ford has been actively involved in conservation efforts in Southern Africa. The Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF), which was established in 2014, is privileged to be able to assist Saving the Survivors through the sponsorship of two Ford Rangers.
The team spends a lot of time on the road, attending to injured animals in their natural habitat. It is very stressful for wild animals to be captured and moved, and the success rates of the treatment procedures decrease dramatically if they are removed from their environment.
Watch Saving the Survivors at work here: https://youtu.be/cas1vUNPxV4