We are settled in our thatched room lodges. The drive to our destination has been great. I sat in the back of one of the pick up trucks and enjoyed the views. Our wildlife vets and head of the team is Dr Keith Dutlow (I'm sure he's my long lost brother) and Dr Lisa Marabini. Instructions have been given and everyone has been given a responsibility and task. I would be the one painting on this operation :) We are told of the dangers we will face and the efficiency of teamwork. The vets will be in the air and three trucks will be the ground team. Rangers are there for protection and to help track. On this particular day we would be tracking and locating white rhinos. Rhinos are being poached at an incredible rate for their horns. Horns which consist of keratin. The same material found in hair and fingernails. In fact the rhino horn isn't even attached to the skull, it is pretty much made of a clump of super compressed hair. Not medicinal, not magical, just keratin. Those seeking the medicinal properties should in fact eat their own fingernails and hair! It'll match their own DNA much better. Leave the rhinos alone.
Morning is up breakfast and ready to roll. Equipment is checked, teams depart and the tracking and location begins. Keith, Lisa and and incredible bush chopper pilot take the air. The truck convoy will carry the ground team and rangers. The first rhino is spotted quickly and the operation begins.
The care everyone shows is incredible. It's a horrible thing we have to do this to an animal that does not deserve this but it may be the only way. Every detail taken by every vet is keen. From oxygen to cooling the animal it must all be quick and precise. It reminded me of the crew at a formula race car pit. Quick and efficient. Horns are removed and blood samples taken. I think the painting of those numbers on the actual rhinos back is probably the most important painting I have ever done in my entire life. I hope one day my actual paint on a canvas or board will one day do the same for me of the feeling of importance. The entire crew picks up as the vet reverses the animals sedative. Dr Keith always remains behind making sure the animal is back on his feet and walking away. The rhino horn is microchipped and handed over to authorities. That's one rhino. We have quite a number to do. I'll report back soon.