This is going to hurt

This article is written by Dr Jen Lawrence in response to the 8 rhino orphans that were located and rescued during Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Parks dehorning operation. Thanks to extensive helicopter coverage and aerial searches during the operation, the conservation teams were able to locate the rhino orphans.

One of the most heartbreaking consequences of the poaching crisis are the orphans that are left behind. These little ones have had to bear witness to unnecessary brutality that their mothers have had to endure at the hands of greed. They no longer have that maternal reassurance, care and protection and find themselves alone in an unforgiving environment. Nothing can prepare you for the emotional onslaught that engulfs you when finding these little ones.

The nauseating smell of death permeating every part of you as you creep up to try and dart a little one lying next his bloated mom. Moving his little head away from her butchered face to place a blindfold on him. In that moment, there is a sense of gratitude for the sedatives that give him a bit of reprieve from what he has had to endure. Looking out of the helicopter and seeing two little ones running together, not really knowing which direction to go. They had each other but that was not enough, they were too small to be left to defend for themselves. Watching them being gently placed on the ground as they were airlifted out of inaccessible terrain gave a small sense of relief as now they were being given a second chance. A whisper of apology doesn’t feel big enough to account for how humans continue to fail them.

These experiences never get easier, and our hearts will continue to break over and over again. Each little one etching a mark of grief and rage within. It is in this that we as wildlife vets, rangers, and helicopter pilots, are at risk of becoming overwhelmed and burnt out.

Sometimes the tears that flow are enough to release the hold of this pain, and sometimes there is a deep grief that swells within and asks for gentle nurturing attention that requires time and space to heal. In my experience, hiding away from the pain and casting it aside only brings further heartache and despair. Over time I’ve come to understand the importance of honouring this space and allowing myself the time to grieve, to tend to these wounds.

Through this I am creating an inner resilience and strength for each new one that comes my way.

AFRICAN WILDLIFE VETS relies solely on donation to operate. Become a monthly donor
and start making a difference today!

Dr Jen Lawrence has been collaboratively sponsored by African Wildlife Vets and Conservation Beyond Borders.