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.
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.
**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**
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.
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.