Born to be wild
- Dec 11, 2012
In this guest blog post, rhino-keeper Claire recalls her touching story of her incredible journey to Africa to release three Kent based rhinos back into the wild.
Earlier this year, The Aspinall Foundation, the conservation charity which works with Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent, successfully translocated three black rhino to a heavily protected reserve in Tanzania and I was one of the keepers involved, you can’t see much of me on the film, but I’m there helping the rhino every step of the way.
The journey started at Port Lympne and we were getting them ready for this incredible adventure months before the actual flight. Every day we would work with the rhinos getting them used to the transportation crates, kindly donated by Virgin Unite. We would encourage them in and out of the crates so that they could get used to them and even fed them in the crates.
One of my favourite memories of the journey was feeding the rhinos at 3000 ft – I actually became a flight attendant on rhino air!
We landed at Kilimanjaro Airport at 6.30 am local time but there was no time for jet lag, we had to get to the reserve. Pete – the vet in charge - gave the rhino an extra sedation before we landed, to keep them calm whilst being unloaded from the aircraft and loaded onto a separate lorry each. After clearing customs, yes – even rhinos have to go through customs - we were on the road to Mkomazi. Pete stayed with Grumeti as she was the liveliest, whilst I travelled with Monduli and Berry (she is featured in the film) travelled with Zawadi.
The road journey to Mkomazi was approximately 6 hours. We stopped every 2 hours for Pete to check on all of the rhinos. By 3pm we had arrived at Mkomazi.
One by one the rhino were released from their crates into the temporary enclosures or bomas as they are also known. First Zawadi, then Grumeti followed by Monduli. The unloading, like the loading, went extremely smoothly with none of the three rhino having injured themselves in any way.
They calmly came out of their crates and started exploring their new surroundings, each having been given 2 bomas. We fed them a selection of browse, fruit and veg and lucerne and all had a good drink. As night fell and it became dark, we left them to settle. They were pleased to see each other through the boma walls. At 10pm we topped up the lucerne and water and left them to rest up – their first night under African skies.
The next day, they were a little sleepy but soon adjusted to the routine of being moved around the bomas for cleaning and feeding and being given fresh water. Gradually, over the next few months we increased the areas that they had as they became accustomed to their new home.
Now the three rhinos are free to roam the 1 million acres of the reserve – they have fully integrated and are just as they should be – wild. This is why we do what we do. If we can keep breeding black rhino in Kent and reintroducing them to the wild, it will help to protect the species under very real threat of extinction.
The Aspinall Foundation passionately believe that the idea that we should just breed these animals and keep them in zoos and wild animal parks for the rest of their lives, makes no sense at all – to breed these animals in captivity the end game has to be to return them home, so thank you to Virgin Unite for helping us to make this happen.
For further information regarding the conservation work of The Aspinall Foundation please visit www.aspinallfoundation.org