Written by ANGELA GUEST
In the summer of 2015, I traveled to South Africa to be a part of the Sepela Field Primatology course. While the course was on primatology, I wasn’t there to study the monkeys; I was there to take photos. Never before that summer in South Africa had I the opportunity to photograph wildlife in such a remote setting. With all of its challenges and large stretches of waiting for a good shot, it was still incredibly fun.
To our surprise, on just the third day of students collecting data in the field, we got to experience the process of three rhinos being recovered from the wild. This happened during our stay at the Loskop Dam Nature Reserve. While our class was observing the behaviors of a vervet monkey troop, we were asked by park personnel to either retreat indoors for safety reasons or come along with them to watch the rhino capture. Of course, we choose the latter.
The three rhinos were originally members of a twelve rhino crash (crash meaning a group of rhinos) from a different reserve. Of these twelve rhinos, eight of them were poached for their horns. The remaining rhinos – two adult females, an adult male, and a youngster – were moved to the Loskop Dam Nature Reserve where poaching was better controlled. They were there for about a month until it was discovered that the rhinos, and their new environment, were in conflict. The rhinos were not used to the mud at Loskop; they were used to the mud at their old reserve that more or less supported their weight, but they would sink in the mud at Loskop. Unfortunately, the big male, due to his weight, drowned in the mud. To prevent any further deaths, park officials made a plan to recapture and move the remaining rhinos to a different location.
It was a difficult process, but well worth the effort to protect such a beautiful endangered species. Our group even got to help in the process by monitoring the young rhino’s breathing patterns and pumping its legs to get them working again after it had been sedated during capture.
In the end, the rhinos were safely recovered and were moved to a new home. Our group doesn’t know what happened to the rhinos after that exciting day; to protect them, their future location was not released. What we do know is that for the rest of their lives the rhinos will remain at risk of being poached. Poaching and the indiscriminate killing of animals, is an ever present issue for South African wildlife.
Graham Cooke was our EcoTraining field guide during our stay in the Makuleke region of Kruger National Park. The EcoTraining field guides seemed to have an unending knowledge of the South African Bush. Cooke taught us anywhere from the benefits of elephant dung to the Afrikaans and english names for trees. He drilled into our heads the difference between all of the animal tracks we saw in the bush (even gerbil and beetle tracks) and quizzed us constantly.
Every morning, Cooke would take our class out into the bush to follow a baboon troop to practice habituation and some data collection. We would follow that troop for hours and for miles until we lost them, felt they were too anxious about our presence, or it was time for lunch. Because of these mornings, I now know way more about baboons than I thought I ever would being a city girl.
After studying the baboons and other wildlife at Makuleke, we traveled south to the Vervet Monkey Foundation to learn about their work and to volunteer our help. The Vervet Monkey Foundation is an incredible protector of vervet monkeys. They provide sanctuary for primates that were orphaned (often because the mother was killed by farmers or cars), were injured (again this is often because of farmers or cars), or were given up by people that thought a wild monkey would be a good pet. A portion of the monkeys at the Foundation were also past laboratory subjects.
All of these monkeys have found a home at the Vervet Monkey Foundation and experience a life as close to the wild as can be provided. In many situations, monkeys are even able to be reunited with their group in the wild.
I will never forget the people I met, the lessons I learned on protecting the earth’s wild animals, and the beauty of the South African landscape. Fortunately, the many photos I took will guarantee that.
Angela Guest is a DePaul student majoring in art and minoring in anthropology and art history. While she loves photography, her favorite medium is oil paint.