As many of you may know, there is a story in my past that has shaped me so significantly – it has lead me on this path of conservation and activism. But you may also know I have a very hard time talking about it, however I have finally managed to jot down in words just a teeny bit of the things I feel, and tried to illustrate a story so horrific there are no words. Please note the below content may be disturbing to some people.
The moon was full and bright, lighting the lowveld. The hippopotamuses emerged from the dams and rivers to feed, the bushbabies rustled in the trees, the servals stalked, the eagles hunted and a rhino mother with her eight month old calf lay to sleep in the river bed.
With the help of a wire cutter, infiltration was easy. This is was premeditated, planned and executed to precision. Stealthily they made their way through the reserve, and found exactly what they were looking for.
With one shot at close range, muffled by a silencer, a bullet shot through the mother’s ribcage. A machete was produced, as a bullet was not enough to take the beautiful beast down – they sliced through her spinal cord, at the base of her neck and toward her lower back. She was paralysed and in excruciating agony, but the pain she was feeling was nothing compared to what was to come. Still breathing, laying in a pool of her own blood in the sand, she was then mutilated further – the man with the machete proceeded to hack the horn from her face. She was left fatally injured, unable to save her beautiful baby girl.
Her baby’s fate was undeniably more gruesome and inhumane than could be imagined. Terrified and defenceless, the eight month old was held down, and her tiny horn was hacked from her face, without the dignity or respect of being killed first. The cuts to her face paralysed her lower legs, limiting her movements. In excruciating pain, frantically grieving and trying to reach her mother, the calf tried to pull herself across the sand, but could do nothing but rotate in the hole she was violated in.
Her mother died during the night, less than two metres from her dying baby, leaving the frightened calf crying aloud into the early hours of the morning.
There had been an eerie silence all day, after we noticed a camera-trap was missing. Nobody dare said a word. A migraine had been plaguing me for days, so I took the afternoon off work to sleep. I was awoken late in the afternoon, by a tap on the shin, and immediately I knew what had happened. The silence of the vehicle was piercing as we drove to the scene.
With a heart heavier than I’d ever experienced, I traipsed down the steep hill, so horrified and heartbroken by what I was seeing. I was shaking uncontrollably, worried I would lose my footing, faint or simply cease to cope with what was in front of me. To be honest, I’m not sure what else there is to say other than, through the choking back of vomit and tears, through the almost unbearable heartbreak and wish to comfort these magnificent dead creatures, through a piercing pain I had never experienced before, I didn’t know how to react. I remember texting my mum, telling her there had been a double murder – and as far as I was, and still am concerned, it was exactly that. Yes, it was poaching, death of animals, but to me murder of a creature I hold so dear to my heart. That day changed everything I knew about the world, and it changed everything about who I thought I was – and from that day forward, I have dedicated myself to conservation, to love, to hope and positivity because that’s what I was put on this planet to do.