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Micro-chipping a Rhino

July 4th, 2017, by Katherine Watts

Out of all the amazing adventures we experienced during our staff educational trip in South Africa, micro-chipping a rhino was definitely the most special.

Our day started bright and early with a wake-up call at 5:30am. The schedule of the day was a surprise as the team at Shamwari were unsure if they would be able to find the rhino that needed to be micro-chipped in the time allotted. We met with the other half of our group in an open field and also met with Dr. Johan Joubert, head veterinarian at Shamwari, chief ecologist John O’Brien and Rodney Visser, head of Shamwari’s group security.

Dr. Joubert explained the process of micro-chipping a rhino and the importance of doing this type of work so that their team is able to monitor and locate rhinos to prevent poaching. Rodney explained that fortunately, in the past five years, there have been no poaching incidents at Shamwari. This is largely due to the success of his anti-poaching unit that is always on patrol.

In order to micro-chip the rhino, Dr. Joubert explained the type of drug that needed to be used and how the dosage was important as too much could affect the rhino’s blood levels and we could also have issues waking the rhino up after the implantation of the micro-chips. In addition to micro-chipping, DNA samples would also need to be collected from the hair from the rhino tail as well as from shavings from the rhino horn.

Shamwari has an extensive rhino conservation program. To assist the local anti-poaching team with identification, all rhino's will have their ears notched. Additionally, rhinos are also fitted with three microchips and DNA genotyped. The resident veterinarian will immobilize a rhino once in its lifetime to do the procedures. For the rhino’s safety, there was a helicopter on site during the darting process. 

Dr. Joubert explaining the process of darting and micro-chipping a rhino.

Did you know 95 per cent of rhinos have been wiped off the face of the earth in the past four decades?

After speaking with the team at Shamwari, we received the great news that the rhino had been located! Everyone hopped into their vehicles and off we went to the location where we spotted three white rhinos.

Dr. Joubert pointed out which rhino we needed to micro-chip and he took aim with his tranquilizer gun. With a swift “pfft,” sound, Dr. Joubert shot the gun and the rhinos took off running. We watched from a distance as one of the rhino slowed down and after a couple of minutes eventually laid down. We quickly drove over to where the rhino was and Dr. Joubert and John ran out from the vehicle and quickly covered the rhino’s eyes and plugged his ears. Although tranquilized, the rhino is still coherent so a mask and earplugs help keep the animal calm.

The team at Shamwari working to ensure the rhino is as comfortable as possible for micro-chipping.

 

In what seemed a flurry, but organized process, the team at Shamwari guided us as we helped to implant three micro-chips, one in each horn and at the back of the rhino’s neck, collected DNA samples and tagged his ear. After what seemed like five minutes, the team at Shamwari asked us to make our way back to our vehicles as Dr. Joubert injected the rhino with an antidote to the sedative it was darted with earlier. We watched from our vehicles as almost instantly, the rhino stumbled to his feet and walked off.

 

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Katherine, African Travel's Digital Marketing Manager, drilling a hole into the rhino horn in order to implant the micro-chip.
The rhino horn is made of keratin, the same protein that makes up hair and fingernails so drilling the hole into the horn is not harmful.

 

The rhino, walking away after having been micro-chipped. 

 

We all watched in wonder and with disbelief that we were able to participate in something so special.

To see us in action, watch this video of the micro-chipping process. 

Thank you to the team at Shamwari for letting us help in this initiative to conserve this amazing species. I know for all of us who had the opportunity to participate in this amazing, life-changing experience, it is one we will never, ever forget.

Looking to stay at Shamwari Game Reserve and help with rhino conservation? On our Majestic South Africa safari vacation, you will stay three nights at the luxurious Eagles Crag Lodge and for every booking we will be donating $50 per couple, in your name, to go towards building a new rhino boma at Shamwari. 

What’s a rhino boma? Read all about how staff helped build a new boma at Shamwari.

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