Skip to content

Oliphants River Kruger National Park South Africa

All photos are copyright of Mic Smith.

Beside the banks of the Oliphants River in Kruger National Park this pair of African Fish Eagles. They were perched in a tree beside the bridge so I had a fairly level view.

Beside the banks of the Oliphants River in Kruger National Park this pair of African Fish Eagles. They were perched in a tree beside the bridge so I had a fairly level view.

I like the way the giriffe is looking at me in this shot. It works well with the way the image is framed

I like the way the giriffe is looking at me in this shot. It works well with the way the image is framed

This tree is almost a frame for a smaller tree. The light wasn't as good this day as previous days but the grey adds to the mood.

This tree is almost a frame for a smaller tree. The light wasn’t as good this day as previous days but the grey adds to the mood.

Lions are big. This young male is sitting on the road completely ignoring the cars and the humans who were going into a photographic frenzy. He's actually hunting with two others

Lions are big. This young male is sitting on the road completely ignoring the cars and the humans who were going into a photographic frenzy. He’s actually hunting with two others

The lion was intent on hunting. I was observing from the road with about 10 other cars.

The lion was intent on hunting. I was observing from the road with about 10 other cars.

IMG_8290

I saw three rhinos under this tree the day before. I sat for over an hour waiting for the right composition and snapped some steady clear shots but the files on the SD were corrupted - I couldn't believe my bad luck. But then realised how much good luck I was having. the Lembobo Mountains of Mozambique are in the background.

I saw three rhinos under this tree the day before. I sat for over an hour waiting for the right composition and snapped some steady clear shots but the files on the SD were corrupted – I couldn’t believe my bad luck. But then realised how much good luck I was having. the Lembobo Mountains of Mozambique are in the background.

This male rhino was dragging his feet to mark his territory. I stay with him a long time but he lay down under a tree and didn't move, so I left.

This male rhino was dragging his feet to mark his territory. I stay with him a long time but he lay down under a tree and didn’t move, so I left.

This White Stork kept me company while I observed the rhino

This White Stork kept me company while I observed the rhino

Different game in Kruger mix well

Different game in Kruger mix well

The textures in the plumage of this White Backed Vulture seem to blend perfectly with the textures in the branches of this dead tree.

The textures in the plumage of this White Backed Vulture seem to blend perfectly with the textures in the branches of this dead tree.

I know this is a breeding pair because I just watched them breeding.

I know this is a breeding pair because I just watched them breeding.

He walks right past my car window to get a drink in the creek

He walks right past my car window to get a drink in the creek

IMG_8400

The black backed jackal walked for a kilomete along the road, sniffing and marking territory

The black backed jackal walked for a kilomete along the road, sniffing and marking territory

Koalas: wrong place wrong time?

IMG_8693 (2)By Chloe Pickard and Mic Smith

 As the Australian Koala Foundation (AFK) pushes for Australia’s first Koala Protection Act, the foundation’s chief ecologist Dr Douglas Kerlin will speak publically to encourage residents to help.

If a Federal Act eventuates it may be too late for koalas in some Gold Coast and Tweed Coast areas, but other local populations could be rescued.

For instance new laws and initiatives could help the 200 or so koalas that live in the Currumbin/Elanora area.

Pottsville koalas, however, were hit hard by a fire last Christmas that wiped out an estimated 40 per cent of the population.

On top of the fire their breeding habitat around Black Rock sports grounds is under pressure from human disturbance.

Pottsville is growing so the koalas are in the wrong place at the wrong time making them very vulnerable.

AKF’s Chief Executive Director Deborah Tabart said in a Tweet in February that “Govt. listing Koalas as “vulnerable” in 2012 changed nothing. The laws for protecting our environment are powerless. #KoalaProtectionAct.”

Koalas are Aussie ambassadors but what will it take for the government to realise they are in trouble, she tweeted.

“AKF has tried to give advice to govt on this for years, to no avail. We need a #KoalaProtectionAct,” Ms Tabart tweeted.

The Federal Koala Protection Act would be a first and this month is the month we’re going to start to campaign for it, the AKF CEO said.

She said Tony Abbott’s and Campbell Newman’s election had watered down the protection offered by the koala’s 2012 ‘vulnerable’ listing to make development simpler.

She said Doug Kerlin’s talk at Gecko this month would be about how Gecko and other Gold Coasters can help make the legislation happen.

“I’m not going to be content until there’s a federal legislation that can’t be watered down,” she said.

 

Deborah Tabart is the architect of the Koala Habitat Atlas, a multimillion dollar peer reviewed project to identify and rank koala habitat. By clicking on the map residents can check their own properties for koala potential.

“I don’t believe that our politicians are interested in good science,” said the koala campaigner of over two decades.

The online Koala Habitat Atlas shows an Australia-wide map of populations and suitable habitats in the Gold Coast and Tweed.

Tweed Heads Environment Group Chairman Richard Murray said the Pottsville koalas were an example of a population fragmented by highways.

“There’s a decline of five to 10 per cent per year [normally], and not enough koalas cross the road safely to make the population viable,” he said.

“The four major causes [of koala death] are car strikes, dog attacks, habitat destruction and chlamydia.”

Mr Murray thinks it may be too late for the Pottsville koalas, making it crucial to ensure the still-viable Elanora-Currumbin koala population doesn’t go down (or try to cross) the same road.

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital senior vet Michael Pyne said the number of koalas brought into the hospital, which treats injured wildlife, has increased dramatically from previous years.

Last year 250 koalas entered the hospital due mainly, he said, to chlamydia and koala retrovirus.

““These diseases are passed genetically, and suppress the immune system leading to skin ulcers, severe gingivitis, anaemia and bone marrow suppression.”

Stress from habitat destruction is a disease contributing factor.

He hopes clinical trials of a chlamydia vaccine will produce one that could be used in the future.

Dr Pyne doesn’t think the rise in his hospital’s koala admissions is all due to the rise in injuries, as there is a growing number of locals who are prepared to assist distressed animals.

“People are starting to recognise what a sick koala looks like and wanting to help more,” he said.

The increasing public interest may be a positive factor to come up with viable solutions because experts say the current solutions put forward by councils aren’t doing anything to save koalas.

Richard Murray said, “The general plan is too leave them wild until they die out. They should be providing a sanctuary.”

“The koala’s future is in our hands. It’s only a matter of time,” he said.

Australian Koala Foundation Dr Doug Kerlin will be discussing the case for national koala protection legislation at a speaking event hosted by Gecko on March 25.

If you see a sick or injured koala, you can contact Wildcare, the Currumbin Animal Hospital or the Gold Coast City Council. Dr Pyne advises people to stay with the koala if possible to make sure it doesn’t move before the rescue team arrives.
Story originally published in Blank Magazine http://blankgc.com.au/koalas-future-in-peoples-hands/

ABC Humans of the Gold Coast interview with Mic Smith

The Tao of Saigon Horn

‘Rhino horn has the medicinal benefit of chewing your fingernails’.

The phrase is meant to be off-putting, a layman’s interpretation of the results of scientific tests.

It is a key statement being echoed in the West to discredit the medicinal use of rhino horn in Vietnam, but it doesn’t work. Instead demand for rhino horn continues to rise.

One of the reasons the statement doesn’t have impact in Vietnam as in the West, it is based on science not supported by Vietnamese world views.

Try and squelch a people’s belief in the efficacy of a centuries old miracle cure with science?

Read more…

The Saigon Horn

I was having coffee at Vasco’s with Phung the husband of an English friend of mine in the quiet backbar. Live music played in the background, but it was still too early in the evening for the club in downtown Saigon’s Hai Ba Trung St to get hectic. It was January 2011 during the weeks coming up to Tet orChinese New Year and everything was winding down for the most anticipated holiday of the year. Phung owned a video production company and was talking about a movie-industry Tet party he’d attended. It suddenly occurred to me to ask him about a story I was working on. Had he tried rhino horn because I’d heard its use was spreading among Vietnam’s elite? He hadn’t he said, but broke out his iPhone and found a popular website in Vietnamese, vietbao.com. 

Phung read the site then translated. The article said the whole body of the rhino is a “miracle medicine”. Even its shit is a miracle – a pain killer – when drank with alcohol. In an article called “Why is rhino horn more expensive than gold” the writer claimed to have drank some of this rhino-dung alcohol made by a man named Viet from Cat Tien National Park (Rhinos had lived in Cat Tien National Park, which is near Saigon, until early 2010).  He claimed it had reinvigorated him after an exhausting day of trekking in the forest. I told Phung cynically that it would be a miracle feeling better after a strong drink mixed with rhino dung and added that the account of drinking shit only showed how desperate some Vietnamese were to experience the famed rhino elixir. Phung totally gobsmacked me by saying that he believed it.

“Why would there be so much talk if it wasn’t true,” was his reasoning.

Read more…

Symposium examines innovative approaches to tackling wildlife crime:TRAFFIC release

“Muldersdrift, South Africa, 26th February 2015—Ground-breaking community-led approaches to combating wildlife crime around the world will be shared at an international symposium taking place in Muldersdrift near Johannesburg from 26-28th February, attended by researchers, community groups, government officials, UN agencies and NGOs,” a release by TRAFFIC says

“Entitled Beyond enforcement: Communities, governance, incentives and sustainable use in combating wildlife crime, the symposium looks at ways to engage those communities living side by side with the world’s wildlife, to protect key species targeted by the illegal trade while securing their own futures.

“The South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Minister Edna Molewa, will open the symposium.

“Media are invited to attend the closing panel discussion among high level representatives of key governments, donors, and policy-relevant institutions, reflecting on implications of symposium findings on 28th February.

Read more…

Professional hunters suspected in Eastern Cape rhino poaching

One of the rhino carcasses found after the first attack. Rhino owner Elvin Krull says the poachers used an axe to remove the horns. Photo by Div De Villiers used with permission

Rhino owner Elvin Krull says the poachers used an axe to remove the horns. Photo by Div De Villiers used with permission

An Eastern Cape game and hunting reserve in South Africa has had two poaching attacks in 11 days with five rhinos killed for their horns and one injured.

The hunting reserve owner suspects that it was the same professional hunters in both poaching incidents. In the most recent attack on February 22, three rhinos were killed and had their horns cut off while a fourth, a cow, was found by helicopter. Eleven days before two rhinos were shot and killed on the same property.

The reserve manager Frank Krull says they discovered the recent attack because they were using a helicopter to spot rhino to dehorn them as a safeguard after the first attack, the Daily Dispatch newspaper in Port Alfred reported.

It all started when the reserve owner Elvin Krull, 80, found the first two rhino carcasses on a remote part of his property during a routine drive.

Read more…

Video

Baby rhino symbolises hope for South African Game Reserve

After the attack three years ago, Thandi has had surgery since the attack to help the healing. She may never heal completely because of normal rhino behaviour and the scars were too deep in the bone for skin to graft to. Now that she has had a calf its a sign to all who care for her that they have done the right thing

Thandi showing the scars from the attack three years ago.  The rhino has had surgery since the attack to help the healing. She may never heal completely because of normal rhino behaviour and the wounds being too deep in the bone for skin to graft to. Now that she has had a calf its a sign to all who care for her that they have done the right thing by treating her, as they didn’t know sometimes if she should be put down or not.

As a journalist in Vietnam, I came across the country’s illegal trade in rhino horn with South Africa when Vietnam’s last rhino was killed in 2010. Since then rhino poaching deaths in South Africa have grown from 333 to over 1200, but a month ago an incredibly brave rhino, who survived a brutal poaching attack, had a calf. The birth has been heralded as a symbol of hope, so I came to see this very special rhino called Thandi for myself and meet the people at Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, who have helped her on her amazing journey of recovery.

The assistant head ranger at Kariega Game Reserve, Jacques Matthysen, known to his friends as Matt, is passionate about rhino conservation.

He smiles as he leans against the 4WD somewhere in the reserve’s 9000 hectares.

I’m out here with Matt and a local TV crew to see Thandi, one of the few rhinos in South Africa to survive a poaching attack.

ABOVE. This video shows Thandi’s calf hiding in the thicket almost 4 weeks after the birth. I was taken into the hiding place in the last light of the day and focusing through the dense thicket was very difficult. Rhinos generally stay out of sight for about 6 weeks after giving birth.

We talk while we wait for the Head of the Reserve Protection Agency, Mirko Barnard, to come back with news of where Thandi is hiding in the dense thicket below us.

The ranger says he can’t believe that Mirko and his young anti-poaching offsider, JC Crouse, didn’t take a video when they were lucky enough to witness Thandi give birth in the bush.

There’s no excuse, Matt says, the two anti-poaching guys had plenty of time to get out their iPhones to video the baby rhino’s arrival.

“A wild rhino giving birth and they don’t think to get a picture?” he shakes his head.

“Not just a wild rhino, the most famous wild rhino?”

Matt has nine years of working with Thandi. He loves the new mother like she was family.

The Southern White Rhino and Matt have shared the best times and the worst; he’s been with her during her 16 month pregnancy and he’s been with her through the most agonising nightmare that a rhino can endure.

Vet Will Fowlds gives Thandi emergency first aid after the attack. He says the poachers must have hacked desperately at the rhinos heads to try and get the horns off quickly. When Themba died Dr Fowlds was so distraught he went down to the water and stroked rhino's back

Vet Will Fowlds gives Thandi emergency first aid after the attack. He says the poachers must have hacked desperately at the rhinos heads to try and get the horns off quickly. When Themba died Dr Fowlds was so distraught he went down to the water and stroked rhino’s back

Thandi was poached for her horn almost three years ago along with two other rhinos at Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

The three rhinos had been out in the open plain for days in plain sight of a road. The poachers came at night, darted them at with tranquilizers, followed them until they were drugged and defenceless, then moved in and hacked their horns off below the bone with pangas (machetes).

Thandi’s injuries were the worst (photos taken on the day show multiple hack marks that didn’t hit their mark) but she was the only survivor. Of her two companions, one bull rhino bled out before the vet arrived and the other bull, Themba, died 24 days later in a waterhole.

The vets and the Game Reserve didn’t find out until Themba’s autopsy that the muscles in the bull rhino’s leg had been slowly dying. The awkward way he had fallen during the attack had cut off the leg’s circulation. Though the rangers tried to hold him out of the water, Themba (which means courage) was too heavy for them and he drowned.

The morning the three rhinos were discovered Kariega decided to call the media and tell the world.

Kariega General Manager Alan Weyer says they don't know how not having a horn effects rhinos socially but dehorning Kariega's rhinos was a choice that had to be made

Kariega General Manager Alan Weyer says they don’t know how not having a horn effects rhinos socially but dehorning Kariega’s rhinos was a choice that had to be made

Though many game reserves try to keep the negative stories about rhino poaching on their properties out of the media, Kariega General Manager Alan Weyer says, “We wanted to let people know what was going on.”

The vet, Will Fowlds, who was first at the scene, says he got the call from Kariega that a rhino had been butchered by poachers and was still alive. He was in the car when he got another call that there was a second rhino.  Ten minutes later they called again to say there was a third.

Grahamstown vet Will Fowlds has developed new knowledge and techniques to treat Thandi which can be applied to other survivors of rhino poaching. He says the impacts of the poaching extend further than the obvious

Grahamstown vet Will Fowlds has developed new knowledge and techniques to treat Thandi which can be applied to other survivors of rhino poaching. He says the impacts of the poaching extend further than the obvious

“It was traumatic before I even arrived,” Dr Fowlds says.

“The rhinos were found within a few hundred meters of each other. It was obvious they had stuck together during the attack.”

An Eastern Cape journalist, Sandy McCowen, who has reported on wars and natural disasters around the world, says the aftermath of the attack was the “worst thing she’s ever seen with animals”.

Port Elizabeth journalist Sandy McCowen says it was chaos the day Thandi was found after the poaching attack

Port Elizabeth journalist Sandy McCowen says it was chaos the day Thandi was found after the poaching attack

The scene overwhelmed her and she cried along with the other journalists present, because the animals were “so defenceless” and obviously suffering such pain.

The TV journalist, who is now doing the follow-up/flipside of the story at Kariega covering the calf’s birth, remembers asking the vets to do something for the rhinos’ pain, but the vets said it was too risky because the pain killers could react fatally with whatever drugs the poachers had used.

“I felt so helpless, so powerless,” she says.

For the crowd of staff, rangers, journos, police and vets running around the reserve’s top plain that day it was a scene they will never forget.

Amid the chaos Thandi got back to her feet and shambled bubbling blood into the bush. At the same time, her horn was being passed through the hands of a syndicate, moving quickly to its final destination in Asia – most likely Vietnam (the biggest end market for rhino horn, sung te giac) or China. The three horns were probably out of the country within two or three days.

The gate by the road where Thandi was found three years ago

The gate by the road where Thandi was found three years ago

Since the media got the story of the mayhem and tragedy that occurred, people from every corner of the world have opened their hearts to Thandi.

Shock and helplessness has turned to joy now Thandi has calved; sheltering with her new son or daughter in dense thicket on the reserve. Much to Sandy’s camera man and editor’s frustration, rhino and calf will avoid the cameras until the calf is four to six weeks old.

The return to motherhood is a return to normalcy for the rhino and a return to normalcy for everyone at Kariega. It’s a sign for everyone around the world who cares, who’s followed her progress on social media, who’s contributed towards the surgery she needed, that rhinos can survive.

Matt, who has the build of a Springbok rugby player and the heart of Aretha Franklin, says what Thandi has accomplished is “remarkable”. He says after the attack he couldn’t speak for a year of Thandi (whose name means “One who is loved”) without crying.

IMG_6551

Matt has worked with Thandi for nine years. He gets angry when he thinks about what happened to her and the constant threat that rhinos face because of the demand in Vietnam

Matt smiles inwardly when he recalls arriving half an hour after the calf was born, “Seeing that little youngster… it was literally just skin and feet and ears.”

“The birth is a symbol of… the best word that comes to mind… is hope.”

“If we carry on doing what we’re doing there might be a little bit more hope in people’s hearts. By bringing out this whole story of the poaching of rhinos to the world it just gives a little more clarity in people’s minds and hearts of what’s going on.”

A member of Kariega’s kitchen staff, Adri Pienaar, says the whole staff at Kariega were saddened by the attack and inspired by Thandi’s fighting spirit and the birth.

Adri, who like Thandi was attacked a few years ago and left for dead, says when she feels like she can’t cope she thinks of Thandi.

“Thandi is an inspiration that people can survive,” she says.

Thandi and her calf are also an inspiration that rhinos can survive.

Image

Images of horror and hope: The recovery of South African survivor of rhino poaching Thandi

In March 2012, this rhino was attacked by a group of poachers during the night. They were armed with dart guns and machetes. She and two bull rhinos were found drugged and faces butchered in the morning.

In March 2012, in Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa this rhino was attacked by a group of poachers during the night. The poachers were armed with dart guns and machetes. She and two bull rhinos were found by Kariega staff hornless, drugged and faces butchered in the morning. Photo supplied by Kariega Game Reserve.

After the attack, Kariega gave names to the two survivors. The female was named Thandi which means  One who is loved or Hope. The male was named Themba which means courage. Themba died 24 days after the attack but Thandi has survived. In January 2015 Thandi had a calf

After the attack, Kariega gave names to the two survivors. The female was named Thandi which means One who is loved or Hope. The male was named Themba which means courage. Themba died 24 days after the attack but Thandi has survived. In January 2015 Thandi had a calf. Photo credit Gary Van Wyk and Kariega.

Durban’s Muti Market -Zulu pharmacy

Locals go to the Muti Market in Durban to buy medicine and magic for them and their house.

The market which is behind Victoria Market deals in Zulu traditional medicinea made from fresh herbs and plants, bark, and animal and marinelife parts.

Some parallels can be draw between Muti and TCM and Vietnamese traditional medicine as herbs and animal parts are used in combinations.

The animal parts sold at the Muti Market however are more crudely prepared than animal parts sold in medicine streets in Vietnam. The bones and remains of animals here still have meat on them and are foul smelling.

This dealer talks about a bucket of black paste that wards off evil. While I was there a woman came and bought some of this paste mixed with three types of dung, different bark and wood chips, minerals and car engine oil to keep “the devil” from her house. She paid 150 rand.

The stall proprietor said the bucket of black paste can also make a person strong if it is put into his blood. You can make a cut in your arm and rub it in and then nobody can kill you, he said.

IMG_0040 IMG_0041 IMG_0044 IMG_0048 IMG_0053 IMG_0056 IMG_0061 IMG_0062 IMG_0064

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers