Death on the job

We didn’t know the rhino was dying.

For about 45 minutes we, the press corps, crowded around the darted beast struggling to get a clear picture or even a glimpse of what the wildlife vets were doing.

The rhino appeared fine, he was making funny little snoring noises and now and again his legs would shake.

The last minutes of Spencer the Rhino's life. Picture by Chris Collingridge

A journalist asked why the rhino was shivering. “They all do that,” one of the vet’s responded, “we call it padding”.

The rhino had a name, he was called Spencer and for his owners this was a PR coup. Scores of media had arrived at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve for the event. There were news agencies, E TV were there, SABC ,even a team from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. The world loves a rhino story.

You see, this is how the itinerary was meant to pan out. The media would arrive, they would then be placed into 4X4 custom built safari trucks and wait for the operation to begin.

With Spencer darted and down, the media head to the scene

A small two man helicopter would then locate the rhino and separate Spencer from the herd.

That went according to plan.

A ground team then approached Spencer and darted him. With Spencer down, the media moved in.

But as we headed out in our Unimog safari wagon, I said something that just might have placed a whammy on this whole operation. What I said perhaps got the gods listen, and they decided to play with fate.

I noticed the Beeld newspaper’s crime reporter Amanda Roestoff.

Usually when I come across Amanda she has a Craven A Menthol cigarette loaded in one hand and there is a corpse lying between the two of us. We have crime scene reunions.

“Hey Amanda it feels strange seeing you here without a dead body,” I joked.

We all laughed and thought nothing more about it.

The plan with Spencer was to drill a couple of holes into his horn. A DNA sample would be taken, micro chips placed and a radio transmitter added. All measures to prevent Spencer from being poached for his horn. For extra measure the plan was to also place in the horn a dye and a pesticide. Anyone consuming the horn, would end up violently ill.

As the vets worked, the main problem appeared to be trying to keep the journalists a safe distance from the bull. There was a worry that Spencer could wake up and we would have a Pamplona styled running of the bulls across the African savannah.

TV journalists file with Spencer in the background

A couple of the TV journalists were allowed into the cordoned off area, to use Spencer and the vets as a backdrop, the camera rolling they told their audiences what was going on.

Their whispered broadcasts sort of went like this:

“This is the latest in the war against rhino poaching,… oh let me do that again… how is my hair.”

Then something went wrong.

Spencer’s legs began to shake violently, later we were told they were convulsions. His snores became more horse like, a weak pleading whine.

A vet monitoring the bull’s vitals, noticed his heart beat had began to flutter. He had developed an arrhythmia the rhino’s heart was packing up.

But we didn’t know this. We were told we had five minutes to climb back into the safari trucks and head to the Centre. We still appeared to be sticking to the itinerary, back at the Centre there was a planned press conference and snacks afterwards.

We didnt know it but Spencer was dying.

I was on deadline, I had to file a story for our afternoon newspaper addition. So I missed the latest. When I walked into the press conference, a journalist whispered to me.

“You do know that the rhino is dead.”

The story had changed radically.

Spencer was old, we were told, and there was a good chance that he had an underlying heart condition. Some of the staff cried. They said that the bull had been with them for ten years.

After the press conference, Amanda stood outside pulling on a Menthol A. In a way with an autopsy to be preformed and the question to be answered of just what killed Spencer, we were back on a crime scene.

Just this time the corpse was bigger.

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About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
This entry was posted in Media, Rhino poaching, stories behind the news and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Death on the job

  1. Linda says:

    What a nice read. Sad ending for the rhino :(

  2. linette viljoen says:

    Very sad

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