Desperate bid to save thousands of wild animals from starvation

27 October 2016 - 17:02 By Graeme Hosken

A nationwide emergency relief operation is under way to save thousands of starving wild animals. The operation began this week when wildlife protection group‚ Boots on the Ground‚ began delivering tons of lucern‚ special game feed pellets and other feed supplements to game reserves across South Africa.The feed, given out by Hemmersbach Rhino Force - an anti-poaching organisation, will be used to help reserves which have been left stricken by nearly two years of drought.Dam levels dropping at 1% every 10 days‚ Midvaal council saysThe Midvaal Local Municipality has urged its residents to continue saving water despite the rains which were experienced over the weekend. The drought's devastation is evident. Thousands of kilometres of once fertile lands lie barren. The heat has turned once nutritious grasslands into dust bowls‚ as much needed rain fails to fall.Hopeful SA farmers planting more as wetter summer forecastSA’s summer rainfall areas can expect wetter conditions during the early and mid-summer periods, according to the latest report by the South African Weather Service. With temperatures across the country's northern provinces hovering in the high 30s [degree celcius] animals that once grazed side-by-side are now turning on each other as they fight over the few remaining grazing patches.Nasty, brutish and shortBroken Tusk stands firm, ears flapping in anger. The six-ton elephant refuses to budge, jealously guarding his bales of lucerne. For Broken Tusk‚ it’s a battle that he cannot afford to lose. The six-ton elephant stands firm‚ ears flapping in anger‚ before lucern bales that have just been distributed at a Limpopo game reserve.His enemies for now are not poachers. It’s the three starving rhinos in front of him.They have all been scrounging for food for months. Now that it’s arrived they are desperate‚ and won’t back down in their attempts to reach it‚ not even from each other.While these animals fight it out‚ thousands of others‚ which have not yet been reached on remote game farms‚ have been dropping dead.Kudu‚ giraffe‚ zebras‚ wildebeest‚ rhinos and antelope are dying.“It’s too horrible to watch‚” says Delia del Maan*‚ as she hugs Boots on the Ground head‚ Suzanne Boswell Rudham‚ as she receives the feed.For Del Maan - a Limpopo wildlife game farmer - the pressure’s been too much.Last month two of her rhinos were poached. Days later a rhino dropped dead from starvation.It was one of 23 of her animals‚ including giraffe‚ kudu and wildebeest‚ to die from starvation.“The kudus‚ especially the bulls‚ die first. They are weak. Their horns are too heavy for them to stand.“It’s the same with the rhinos. We try to help‚ but if we can’t ... we have to end their pain.”She said alarming them now was how their rhinos associated vehicle sounds with food.It’s evident. When the Boots on the Ground team stops near rhinos they rush the vehicle.“It’s the last thing we want. They are so desperate for food. It makes it even easier for poachers‚” says Del Maan.Francois Meyer of Wildheart Conservation said their animals were dying fast.“It’s so bad we had to auction off some of our game. The money we made bought feed‚ but that’s run out. We thought it would last until September‚ but the drought is so bad it hasn’t.”He looks on at the rhinos as face off against Broken Tusk.“It comes down to this. Animals that won’t usually fight each other for food‚ are bitter enemies. People are euthanising their animals.”Rhino farm owner‚ Howard Knott‚ said grazers‚ like rhinos‚ were the first to die.“Most lucern sellers are out of stock and those that have ration their feed. This relief is a huge help.”He said the drought’s effects were evident.“The animals are skin and bones. We are now worried about the effect on the calving season.”He said their rains came in November‚ “but we are so desperate we cannot wait until then”. For Rudham it’s all about helping the animals‚ especially rhinos.“While many people now after Cites‚ are polarised over trade [in wildlife] none are thinking about the drought’s effects on the animals.“The drought affects all game farms‚ government and private. It’s about helping the animals and we are working with those in need.“We made calls for help and people opened their hearts. The problem is it’s not enough to help all those desperately in need. With calving season approaching we will now provide milk for the young.”* Not her real name. The names of the farms‚ which all have rhinos‚ have been withheld for security reasons.-TMG Digital/The Times

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.