By Alex Crawford, Special Correspondent, in the Eastern Cape
The number of rhinos killed in South Africa looks set to exceed last year’s record total.
With just three months left in 2013, the number of rhinos killed is more than 500 and appears almost certain to top 2012’s death toll of 668.
The South African Government has already sent in the military to the country’s flagship game reserve, the Kruger National Park, to help in the fight against poaching.
There is also a plethora of independently-funded efforts to save the animal which faces extinction for the second time in a century.
One man doing his fair share is veterinarian Dr William Fowlds who is the founder of Rhino Lifeline and managed to persuade the South African bank Investec to help financially support his efforts.
The Investec cash has helped pay for helicopters and medical supplies so Dr Fowlds can track rhinos from the air, fire tranquilisers into them, then drill tiny holes in their horns into which chips are inserted so the rangers can keep track of them.
DNA is also taken and stored on the national database in Pretoria.
:: Warning: The video on this story shows animals in distress and receiving medical treatment.
Dr Fowlds was the first vet on the scene when three rhinos were attacked by poachers 18 months ago on the Kariega Game Reserve. One was so badly mutilated, he died hours later.
But somehow Dr Fowlds’ prompt work managed to bring the other two back from the brink.
The rangers were traumatised by the sight of these animals with their horns and part of their faces ripped off by the poachers.
They were lying motionless, heavily tranquilised by the thieves. Dr Fowlds set about injecting them with antibiotics, pain-killers and vitamins and tidied their wounds.
They were named Thandi and Themba and the vet team worked frantically to save the two of them. But 24 days later, Themba was found drowned in a waterhole.
Internal injuries were to blame. The vet team was distraught. Dr Fowlds was determined he wasn’t going to lose Thandi too.
He performed procedure after procedure on the animal, even performing pioneering skin graft operations on the rhino, snipping skin away from behind her ear and growing it over the bloody hole where the horn had been.
Less than two years on, Thandi is alive and has a new mate. Her mate’s horn has had to be cut off to try to protect her from his amorous advances but they are both alive and far less of a poachers’ target.
The story of Thandi’s survival is well known to South Africans who responded in their hundreds with money and offers of help when the news of Thandi and Themba was first reported.
“Thandi’s will to survive has been inspirational,” Dr Fowlds told Sky News.
“We would never have put her through all those procedures if she hadn’t shown us that. I don’t think I have ever come across any animal with such a desire to live. And that’s what the world needs to know. These animals want to live and we need to help them.”