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February 26, 2013

The Story of Rhinos Thandi and Themba

Humane Society International/UK

  • Thandi the day after the attack that left her with terrible injuries. Dr Will Fowlds

  • On the road to recovery: Thandi with rhino specialist and vet, Dr Fowlds.

  • After much care, Thandi's wounds eventually healed. Dr Will Fowlds

by Susie Watts

When South African vet and rhino specialist Dr Will Fowlds was informed that three rhinos had been poached at Kariega reserve one night last year, he immediately set to work to help save them.

The two survivors, a male called Themba and a female called Thandi, were located and Dr Fowlds began to treat their terrible injuries: both had severe wounds to the top of their heads, where their horns had been hacked away, probably with machetes. Themba also had a significant leg wound.

Dr Fowlds worked hard to save these two beautiful rhinos but sadly, 24 days after the attack, he found Themba dead at a waterhole. Having gone in to drink, the young rhino had been too weak to get himself back out onto solid ground.

HSI has closely followed the progress of Thandi, and we’re delighted report that she has physically recovered to the point where she needs no further treatment. Dr Fowlds reminds us, however, that we may never know what psychological scars remain in a rhino's memory after such trauma.

Myths fuelling the deadly trade

Rhinos are targeted for their horn which, ground down to a powder, is a highly valued component in traditional medicine. Even though horn is made of keratin, similar to our fingernails, and the myths are scientifically unsubstantiated, the demand has fuelled an unprecedented surge in the illegal rhino horn trade, resulting in the poaching and death of many hundreds of these magnificent creatures each year.

Rhino protection will be debated at the March 2013 CITES meeting.

Sometimes, the animals are not killed outright. Instead of firing loud weapons, poachers sometimes try to avoid detection by darting the rhinos with powerful veterinary drugs before hacking their horns off. This brutality results in life-threatening wounds, often leading to a prolonged, painful death. Those who do survive face many months of treatment.

A dramatic increase in poaching

In the last five years, more than 1,600 rhinos have been poached in South Africa and the number is increasing year-on-year: In 2007, 13 rhinos were killed; by 2012, that annual figure had increased to 668. There are now fewer than 30,000 rhinos left in Africa and Asia combined and four of the five surviving rhino species are listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List as threatened with extinction.

Understanding the consequences

We’re thankful for the great care shown to injured rhinos by Dr Fowlds. Not only is he a skilled vet, but his first-hand knowledge of these terrible events is helping others around the world understand the damage poaching can cause.

Having joined us at an event in Beijing last June, where he told the large audience about what the consumption of rhino horn really meant for rhinos like Thandi and Themba, we hope he will be able to attend an event we will hold in Vietnam—the world's biggest importer of rhino horn—later this year. Take the pledge: Don't Buy Wild.

Susie Watts is a consultant on wildlife issues for HSI.

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