Rhinos and caterpillers fascinate at the HESC

A convoy of caterpillars.

HOEDSPRUIT – Some of us, growing up before the age of technology and Internet, might recall playing a game called Follow the leader. On Monday a very interesting phenomenon caught the eye of personnel at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC). Some caterpillars seem to have started playing this popular game too. These are, of course, commonly known as processional moths, although people mostly notice only the caterpillars.

These convoys are found crossing roads and pathways in a single line, each following another in a head-to-tail procession. Some of these have been known to consist of up to an astonishing 600 caterpillars.

The HESC focuses on the conservation of rare, vulnerable or endangered animals. Recently it took in a very special animal – Gertjie – a three-month-old baby rhino, anticipated to have been born in February. He was brought to the centre after being found next to his dead mother which had been poached for her horn. “It was a devastating sight, as the fragile animal would not leave her side, and was crying inconsolably,” said general manager, Gretha Scheepers. Since then, he has picked up 36kg and now clocks in at 136kg!

How does one weigh a baby rhino? Construct a large wooden scale, and attach it to a digital meter. Use milk and pellets to entice the rhino, and voila.

On Friday August 30, 2013 three rhinos had been darted and dehorned by poachers. Miraculously, although one bull was killed, the remaining two cows had survived.

The horns had been neatly cut off with a chainsaw, however, this left the animals’ sinus canals open and exposed, posing a massive threat. A month later the rhinos were moved to the HESC. Dr Peter Rogers, a local wildlife vet, treated and then closed the cavities with a fibreglass cast, which covered the entire nasal area.

A lot has happened in the past nine months since Lion Den and Dingle Dell has arrived at the centre.

On Friday May 9, Rogers and his crew arrived to replace Lion Den’s cast, and to check up on her general progress. Her wound had healed so well that she wouldn’t need any further treatments. The cast was relatively undamaged, and only a few maggots were found on the outer edge of the gash. Water was first used to clean it, followed by an alcoholic-based disinfectant. Rogers was impressed that the wound was beginning to close, but not so happy about the ‘proud flesh’ that seemed to be growing in the unhealed part. ‘Proud flesh’ is a term usually used in connection with horses. It refers to the excessive build-up of healing granulation tissue that spills up over the wound and prevents skin from growing over the top.

It must be removed to facilitate healing, which involves cutting back any excessive tissue. While this is invariably a very bloody business, it is usually painless because granulation tissue does not have any nerves or nerve endings.

Once this excess tissue was removed, antibiotic powder was applied, followed by an absorbent dressing. The first layer of the cast was applied, and covered with a piece of galvanised sheet metal which was cut to size and hammered to fit neatly over the cast. Holes were drilled and a screw and washer were used to secure the plate and the underlying cast to the bones of the sinus cavities. Further securing of the metal ‘lid’ to the cast was done with pop rivets. The area was cleared of all equipment and the sedation was reversed. After getting up, Lion Den quickly reunited with Dingle Dell and disappeared in the bushes.

Carli Koch
Sports Editor

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