Conservation is central to what we do at Lalibela. It is our main aim to make a difference in contributing to the future preservation and conservation of our country’s biodiversity. At Lalibela, our conservation projects range from anti-poaching units to the removal of non-indigenous trees.

The ongoing conservation of wildlife at Lalibela is of vital importance and from time to time we need to conduct various veterinary procedures on high profile species like rhino, lion and cheetah. During these procedures, veterinarians take great precaution to ensure the safety of the animals and will only dart wildlife when it is absolutely necessary to do so.

Lalibela staff, along with some of our guests, had the opportunity to experience one of these conservation procedures first-hand. We recently needed to perform a procedure on two of our rhinos. Each rhino is fitted with a tracking collar around their leg. When the batteries in the collars reach the end of their lifespan, it then becomes necessary to fit a new collar onto the rhino.

To replace the old tracking collars with new ones, the rhinos need to be sedated in order to safely work on the animals. On arrival, the veterinary team briefed the Lalibela staff on each of their duties for the procedure. The vet also explained the procedure to the guests so that they had an understanding of why these procedures are done and what they can expect.

The vet set off to position himself so that he can get close enough to dart the rhinos with an anesthetic drug. Once the dart has been administered, the team patiently wait until the animal goes down. Once the rhino is sedated, the ground team rush to the rhinos to position them so that they lie down correctly, ensuring that their airways are not obstructed. Moving a 1,600 kilogram animal is no joke! Positioning the rhino requires many hands to make a lighter load. The rhinos are also blindfolded and earplugs are inserted into their ears to ensure that they do not see or hear movement that would stimulate them and cause unnecessary stress throughout the procedure. Guests join in and assist the vet with administering medication such as antibiotics and vitamins. During the procedure, the vet continues to monitor the rhinos’ vital signs, making sure that they do not overheat and that they can get enough oxygen.

Guests had a unique hands-on experience and were able to touch the rhino and get up close to them. It is incredible to see the size of the animals once you are standing right next to them. The vet team gave the guests the opportunity of injecting the rhinos with antibiotics and vitamins. One would think that this sounds like an easy task but injecting a needle into skin that is about 1.5 – 5 cm thick can be quite a task. Its not everyday that one would get the opportunity to inject a member of the Big Five! It can be overwhelming to think about how one would safely inject a rhino but the guests were reassured by the vet who was with them every step of the way explaining the correct procedure on how to administer the injection.

The tracking collars are a vital part of conservation efforts to make rhinos less valuable to poachers and contributes to the reserve’s efforts to conserve this endangered species. The tracking collars assist the anti-poaching unit in locating the rhinos to monitor their location and ensure that they are safe at all times.

Participating in a conservation procedure like this was truly a once in a lifetime experience, as none of the guests had ever participated in something like this before. All guests had the chance to actively participate in the procedure. They learnt more about protecting these iconic endangered African species and why this is important. Each individual walked away feeling privileged and humbled by this experience.

After a successful procedure, the vet administered a reversal drug to reverse the effect of the anesthetic.  After a few minutes, the rhinos woke up, a little groggy and confused but otherwise unharmed. They wandered back into the bush to continue feeding, safer than they were before, thanks to the conservationists that care about them.

“So special, once in a lifetime experience and great for David’s 60th birthday.”

Moya Truter