Extreme mud spa

A throwback to one of the feel-good stories that emerged from South Africa’s relentless drought…

2016 saw the harsh continuation of a severe, relentless and devastating drought in southern Africa, with some parts of South Africa facing a third consecutive year of seriously below average rainfall. Coupled with unprecedented hot and windy weather conditions, it had grave consequences on the land and its wildlife. So much so, that the Southern African Development Community declared the drought a regional disaster in Zimbabwe, Lesotho and most of South Africa.

Faced with three successive failed rainy seasons, &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve certainly felt the effects and had to take drastic measures to keep the reserve running; however, thanks to the hard work and seamless behind-the-scenes logistics from both our Phinda Maintenance and Habitat teams, the drought did not impact the &Beyond guest experience in any way.

The prolonged dry spell forced the vegetation, natural water sources and even rivers in some areas to dry up completely, which of course wreaked havoc on the wildlife. Not knowing, nor being able to even predict, what would happen next, these drastic times called for drastic measures, so water (as well as feed for the herbivores) was transported into the reserve regularly. With the northern sector of Phinda hardest hit, many of the major water supply points completely dried up and select dams had to be pumped to sustain the wildlife.

Amidst the unexpected difficulties brought on by the drought, and the poaching atrocities that are ever-present in South Africa, we take a #ThrowbackThursday look back at one of the feel-good stories that emerged from this natural state of emergency.

Having been committed to rhino conservation for more than 25 years, our teams on the ground certainly know first-hand just how unpredictable conservation work can be. Never truly knowing what’s coming next, they have to be ready at all times to drop whatever they are doing and work together for the much-needed safety and protection of our continent’s precious wildlife. This story proves just that…

One afternoon, an old black rhino bull ambled down to his favourite watering hole only to discover that all of the water had dried up and in its place was a deep, thick and very dangerous mud bath. On that particular day, there was just a faint glimmer of surface water in the middle of the sludge and &Beyond Phinda Conservation Manager, Simon Naylor, suspected that the bull must have smelled it and was desperately trying to get over to it.

Like an oasis that was frustratingly just out of reach, the thirsty rhino got himself into a sticky situation. Literally.

As a conservation company, it is &Beyond’s policy not to interfere with wildlife and rather to let Mother Nature run its course. The only time we will ever intervene to aid wildlife is (1) when it’s an endangered species that is in danger and (2) when an animal is in distress due to human intervention (e.g., hunting snares, poaching attempts, falling into a manmade pool, etc.).

This critically endangered rhino was mired in a muddy mess and there was no doubt an emergency rescue mission was required. But how on earth do you safely pull a one-tonne animal out of such a predicament?! The options were limited and the time to act was now before the already dehydrated and visibly tired animal became too distressed and exhausted himself completely.

Simon and the team had to think fast. They couldn’t dart and sedate the rhino, because the risk of him lowering his face into the mud and suffocating was too great. A quick decision was made to call in some heavy machinery to dig through the mud and create an opening for the rhino to escape.

In came the mighty backhoe, and it took the team two hours to successfully clear a path wide enough for the frightened animal. Black rhino are feisty by nature and this old bull, as exhausted as he must have been, continued to give this strange machine (which must have resembled an enormous rhino to him) a good rev.

Videos © Simon Naylor.

Finally the mud was cleared creating a wide enough berth for the rhino to break free. Although visibly drained, yet thankfully unharmed, he slowly walked out of his muddy predicament and into the bush, no doubt with a healthy new glow. Consider it a half-day spa experience, with a rejuvenating, organic mud mask.

Images © Simon Naylor.

Kudos to Simon and the fast-acting conservation team for saving this endangered animal from an otherwise horrific outcome.

Did you know that one rhino is illegally slaughtered every seven hours for its horns? Would you like to help make a difference to rhino conservation by getting hands-on with our field teams and actually taking part in an exciting rhino capture? Click here to read all about this once in a lifetime experience whereby endangered rhino will be darted and translocated to safety in early 2017.


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