SHAMWARI WILDLIFE REHABILITATION CENTRE
Shamwari Game Reserve is approx. 1 hr north east of the coastal town of Port Elizabeth in South Africa. The reality tv show Shamwari was filmed there a few years ago, and as part of our 3 day visit to the game reserve we requested a visit to the rehabilitation centre. This was a personal dream of mine as I have always been a fervent follower of the tv series.
As well as being a commercial game reserve with resort facilities, Shamwari cares about South African wildlife, its preservation and conservation, and has many animal re-housing programs. Its rehabilitation unit and veterinary hospital also cares for injured South African animals brought to them from neighbouring areas. They also have a wildlife breeding program which is contrary to the on-site Born Free Foundation which does not allow any of their animals to breed. Shamwari has an active program and have, for example, raised disease-free buffalo which are a prized element in African animal husbandry. These animals are sold for a premium, the monies helping the running costs of Shamwari.
RHINO CONSERVATION EXHIBITION
The relatively new Wildlife Centre was opened in 2012 by the wheelchair ridden brother of Gary Player, Ian, a man now in his eighties whom over the years developed a keen and passionate interest in the highly endangered rhino. A rhino conservation exhibition was set up in the Wildlife Centre and Fatima, our guide, gave us a tour around it explaining the massively reduced numbers of these animals, the increasing level of poaching and cruelty shown by poachers to these beautiful creatures.
Since 2007 following the de-regulation of the sale of rhino horn and coincidentally a visit to Africa by a prominent Asian dignitary who openly declared he owed his life to his cancer being cured from rhino horn powder, poaching has dramatically escalated. There are now over 1200/year being killed, more than double last year, and vastly different than the very low and steady numbers of 15-20/year in the early 2000’s. Rhino horn is extremely valuable, especially on the Asian market. One can be paid many millions of rand for a kg of rhino horn which may is usually also laced with ginseng in its post production phase. There has never been any medicinal use proven of actual rhino horn so much of it is ‘doctored’ and mixed with other substances before final sale.
But now poaching has taken a different tack. Shooting and killing the animal outright is not often now practiced. Poachers have obtained tranquilliser medication and guns, possibly from vets in their black market network. They dart the animals to cut off their horns with electric chainsaws and then leave them to die. They also no longer just cut the horns off near the base of the horn from which they could survive, but they take the skin, underlying soft tissue and often part of the maxillary bones too, exposing their sinuses to bleeding and infection.
Three white rhino have been attacked at Shamwari in the last few years despite their anti-poaching security detail. One was found already dead, one had a gangrenous leg from lying drugged for too long in one position and died shortly after. The third they managed to save although she has recurrent nasal wound breakdown whilst grazing.
Poaching if caught carries a prison sentence of only a few years or 3000 rand (approx. Aus $350) but this is a poor deterrent to poachers who are often local villagers and are very poor. For one rhino horn they can be offered a year’s salary for their work. Kruger National Park itself has a big problem with poaching. This is due to one of its borders being Mozambique. Poachers often lead the animals across the border into Mozambique where there is no legislation against poaching or the sale of rhino horn. And hundreds of kilometres of fencing between the two countries has just been approved to be removed by local authorities. This awful situation needs to change drastically or Africa will not have any rhino left in the next 5-10 years.
SHAMWARI WILDLIFE REHABILITATION CENTRE
Dr Johan Joubert has been the vet and Wildlife Director at Shamwari for many years now. Actual vet work on injured or orphaned animals is less than 5% of his daily routine as he is mainly involved in the running of the park’s wildlife conservation and re-housing programs. When Fatima showed us around the Rehab Centre things appeared very quiet. There were hardly any orphaned or injured occupants at the rehab centre, a good but rare situation.
Their sources include neighbouring properties and also the other Shamwari owned reserves near Kruger and in the Western Cape of South Africa, which are often used to re-house animals after rehabilitation if possible. Two injured eagles were in residence, including one very vocal juvenile Black eagle called Grumpy who took a particular attraction to Tony and squawked at him every time he tried to walk away.
There was also a nyala (small antelope) which was allowed to wander freely around the house and garden, constantly supervised by Blackie, a territorial sheep dog.
Some of the hand raised animals when released locally still return to the rehab centre and are allowed to do so if they do not cause a problem and are small. There is however currently a zebra and a donkey who will not leave the area and are causing some problems. They are hoping to introduce a sexually active zebra mate to give the other zebra some reason to move on. The centre has many varying sized pens or enclosures for large animals including rhino and buffalo. After initial vet assessment and treatment as needed, they are then moved back into the wild if possible. Shamwari owns three large trucks for South African animal transport but usually leases a special truck for moving elephant as there is apparently only one in South Africa which can be used.
Predatory animals are only housed in the northern part of Shamwari, divided by a fenced public road. The southern acreage is used for their non-predatory animals and breeding stock, including the highly prized disease free buffalo, as there is no point breeding precious animals then releasing them into a predatory area. At the end of our tour we were allowed to meet Dr Johan Jobert. Whilst obviously being a very busy person, he was extremely approachable and more than happy to talk to us about his dreams and ambitions. He has strong convictions about animal conservation, not only within Shamwari but within Africa as a whole. He is very active in political lobbying where many of the problems lie.
The situation with elephants is one issue, for example. Above Botswana there are very few elephants due to their open hunting policies and lack of hunting regulation. Below this line are too many elephants for the acreage of the reserves, and a solution is urgently needed due to terrain destruction. Physically moving them is not possible. One suggestion is to start some breeding programs in those deficient areas. Also many small reserves have a lot of inbred animals. To prevent this Shamwari often re-houses some of its animal groups such as lion prides after a few years to continually mix the genetic pool. Johan supports the removal of fencing between especially small neighbouring reserves to allow the animals a larger more natural grazing and breeding area. These communal conservancies are slowly becoming more and more popular but one has to be able to get all parties on the same side for this joint aim. If one farmer or owner holds out, it cannot go ahead and the project naturally comes to a halt. Hopefully this may come to fruition later this year.
Shamwari has a huge reputation for its good work in all fields of animal care and conservation, and one can only hope that the new owners, Dubai World will carry on and expand its message of conservation and animal care education in Africa. [Photos by Tony and Irene Isaacson]