Methodology

The process of infusing a rhino’s horn is by no means a quick and simple endeavour. It consists of three phases – pre-action, infusion and post-action. This page explains the processes and procedures we follow to ensure the rhinos receive the best possible treatment during and after the procedure as well as complying with any legal or legislative requirements.

PRE-ACTION PHASE:

During the 30 days leading up to the horn devaluation and insertion of the SeekerDNA Anti-Poaching Forensic Marker, applications are sent to the local Nature Conservation Authorities for the necessary permits to immobilise and work on the rhinos identified as suitable candidates for treatment (this can take 7 to 21 working days to obtain). Dr Hern also arranges insurance for the upcoming procedures in this time.

Taryn Forfar, who works closely with the VGL (Veterinary Genetic Laboratory) at Onderstepoort, obtains the rhino DNA collection kits, microchips and other consumables required for the upcoming treatments. Suzanne Boswell makes the accommodation/meals/ travel arrangement for the upcoming infusion phase. She also confirms the availability of a helicopter, pilot and orders the warning signs for the properties to attach to their perimeter fences.

Suzanne generates a social media “buzz” surrounding the project and to get local / international media on board to cover the procedures, if need be.

 
 

INFUSION PHASE:

Once onsite, Dr Shaun Beverley completes a preliminary health check of the animals to be treated, as it might be necessary for us to avoid immobilising some of them with underlying health conditions.

Gavin Sterley completes the safety checks with all the equipment and mixes the liquid compounds that will go into the infusion device(s) to be used in the procedures. Gavin further checks drills and drill bits, back-up sets of equipment, consumables, tools and safety gear (i.e. a sufficient number of gloves/masks etc.).

 
 

As a treatment commences, Dr Hern holds a safety briefing with all guests/staff on the ground as Dr Beverley accompanies the helicopter pilot to identify animals for treatment. When a suitable candidate is identified, the ground crew, consisting of Dr Hern, Taryn Forfar and Gavin Sterley are contacted via handheld two-way radios and the crew vehicle(s) is put into position before the animal is darted. Once informed that the dart is in, we start a stopwatch on the ground and slowly proceed towards the animal, which should be safe to approach roughly 9 minutes after being darted. Only once the animal has been safely blindfolded and had its ears plugged, can game viewers move into position and join us onsite.

 
 
In this film, the team from the Rhino Rescue Project have sedated the rhino and are covering its eyes and blocking its ears to help reduce stress. It is then putting it into a stable position so that while it is unconscious its condition can be monitored and it can be moved if required.
 
 
 

**Please be aware that the pink / red substance you will see in the following picture / films on gloves, blue ground covers and on the horns themselves is not blood, It is the indelible dye in the infusion mixture**

 
 

Gavin drills holes into both the front and back horns to prepare it for custom-designed non-return valves. He has to make sure he drills into the centre of the horn for maximum liquid penetration during the horn devaluation infusion.

The non-return valves are inserted into the drilled holes and the probe for the infusion device is attached.

Taryn simultaneously collects DNA samples (tail hair, blood and horn shavings) and then prepares the three microchips for insertion.

 

While the procedure has been taking place Dr Beverley has been monitoring the animal’s respiratory rate and places a microchip in the rhino’s shoulder. During the procedure, the rhino normally has to be either rolled over, moved into a more comfortable position or have water poured over its body to keep it cool.

In this film, Rhinos’ Last Stand Co-Founder Dr Lorinda Hern explains why the infusion spreads throughout the horn structure and how it is visible on this rhino during treatment.

This film also shows how the infusion device is attached to the probes and the specialised cocktail is infused into the horn under pressure, this is to help with infusion throughout the horn (placement can vary depending on the horns). After the infusion has been completed and the probes are removed, the holes are sealed with resin and a temporary duct tape cover is used to allow it to set. The rhino removes the duct tape after a few days during its normal grooming routine.

Inserting a microchip into a second smaller horn after already placing them in the larger horn and in the rhino. The hole is then filled with resin to secure it in place.

 
 

Dr Lorinda Hern shows the SeekerDNA Anti-Poaching Forensic Marker (one of the substances that make up the infusion compound), which contains a Forensic DNA code that will be unique to the Park and/or rhino and an invisible UV marker that glows under UV light.

Once all the guests / staff have moved to a safe distance, the rhinos given the antidote to the sedative so it can regain consciousness and gets back on its feet, all the while under observation.

Once all the guests / staff have moved to a safe distance, the rhinos given the antidote to the sedative so it can regain consciousness and gets back on its feet, all the while under observation.

 
 
This picture shows Dr Lorinda Hern showing an example of one of the numerous signs posted around the reserve perimeter explaining how the rhino horns on the property have been contaminate with a toxin and should not be handled or consumed by humans.

This picture shows Dr Lorinda Hern showing an example of one of the numerous signs posted around the reserve perimeter explaining how the rhino horns on the property have been contaminate with a toxin and should not be handled or consumed by humans.

 
 
 

POST-ACTION PHASE

Taryn labels the DNA sampling kits, all outstanding information on the submission forms are completed and the kits are delivered to the laboratory for analysis. Taryn further prepares a spreadsheet with all of the unique microchip numbers and their locations, this is kept as a record and a copy is forwarded to the reserve(s). In the 24 hours after the treatments, the animals are monitored consistently and their condition reported on to Dr Beverley, who has to prepare a report for the insurance underwriters. Dr Beverley also has to complete a schedule for the South African Veterinary Council to account for all of the veterinary drugs used during the procedures. 

Of course, in this phase, the information gathered in used in the action phase to improve on the existing procedure. Prof James Larkin from WITS will be joining us to assess how benign radiation can be introduced to the existing treatment procedure to add an additional level of protection to the animal, and to make smuggled horns highly detectable. So this phase will be devoted largely to research and development, before the entire cycle.