A story worth telling
by Mark Brightman, BHF Conservation Manager
It is a tale of a rhino and the men who rescued her. In the true spirit of ‘Operation Noah’ days. Her name was ‘Jane’ – a solitary black rhino who had somehow survived on Partridge Island, alone, long after her mother had died, leaving her to lead a solitary existence there for many years. She took her name from the resident Ecologist’s wife – who was renowned to have a fiery temperament matching that of any rhino!
She was often seen and tracked by Steve Edwards from Musango, who kept an eye on her, where she lived together with some resident sable and a lone buffalo cow. It was said she was never poached because the local Tonga people living in the area said she was possessed by an ancestral spirit, and was therefore considered sacred.
It was decided therefore, in 1993, to move her to Tashinga in Matusadona, where, it was hoped, she could produce as many calves as she could before she became too old. So, on the 23 August of that year, a team comprising of Dr. Mike Kock, Dr. Mark Atkinson (wildlife veterinarians), Barney O’Hara (helicopter pilot), Andy Searle (RIP), Warden of Matusadona at the time, and their capture team, using a hired Unimog and the District Development Fund Ferry, successfully managed to dart her and move her to Tashinga. Considering the terrain they had to operate in, and the potential hazards of ‘Jane’ running off a cliff or even drowning in the Lake, it was a remarkable operation.
She settled well in her new home and centred her wanderings around the airstrip and Rob’s Point, where Pete Tetlow from Bumi often saw her on cruises or when picking up guests off a charter into the Tashinga airstrip.
Over the next few years she gave birth to 2 calves, the first one was named ‘Musango’ but it was sadly killed by hyenas. Her second calf was called ‘Mbhizi’ after a local river in the area.
Her fate and that of her surviving calf is not known, but there can be little doubt they were poached for their horn during the tide of poaching which swept most of her kind from Matusadona in the 90s. A very sad ending to a remarkable rhino.
Some more from the ‘Operation Noah’ days. Antbears (or ‘aardvarks’ – very powerful diggers themselves) posed a challenge in that they had to be laboriously dug out of their burrows before being caught and ferried to the mainland. And the Honeybadgers weren’t easy to catch either!