Early mornings in Kruger, just before sunrise, the sounds around the camps signal the start of a new day. Amidst monkeys and birds chattering, and the occasional snorts of warthog and impala, the distinct rumble of the game viewer's vehicle can easily be recognised. Yet another sound on one of these magical mornings in May this year, was the Sanparks Game Capture Team setting off to the Malelane/ Stoltznek area where they hoped to capture six rhinos for translocation to Marakele National Park.
The ground crew left just after 05h00 from Skukuza, leaving Head of Department, Dr Markus Hofmeyr, to finalise his preparations of darts and drugs while waiting for Grant Knight, Sanparks pilot in Kruger. Flying to the site, one could see the flat Skukuza landscape give way to the hills and rocky outcrops in the Stoltznek area. It was here that Markus, Grant and Bruce Lesley, section ranger of the Malelane area, began their search for the six male rhinos. Ideally they had to be in their early adulthood and not too big. Within ten minutes the air crew had the first rhino spotted, darted and on its way to the road.
Grant was doing his utmost to uphold pilot's honour by steering the rhino to the road in time for the drug to take effect. It is much easier for the ground crew to do the required measurements, micro-chipping and loading in a clear area like a road than in thick bushy areas. It took five minutes for the first rhino to go down after being darted. The ground crew, under the leadership of Marius Kruger, moved into high gear to take blood samples, microchip the animal and measure its horns. At the same time the capture crate was put in place and with ropes around its nose that led through the crate, the rhino was roused.
The crew surrounded the rhino, which was then prodded to follow the tug of the rope and so led into the crate. After ensuring the rhino was safely inside the crate, Marius and his team lifted it onto the truck.The next two rhino were captured some 40 metres off the road. Grant was excelling and the next rhino, the biggest of the day, dropped in the road again. Unfortunately the last rhino had different ideas and went down in the bush some 100 metres off the road. After all six were captured, they were transported to Bruce's section ranger station.
Here they were loaded onto a bigger truck and left for Marakele. "Here everything went well and they were offloaded without problems," says Markus.The Game Capture Unit is based in Skukuza and provides specialist support services to Sanparks. Although game capture has been part of Kruger's operations for many years, the unit as it is now was established in 2002.
"The department is responsible for the veterinary related work, capture and disease research for Sanparks as well as support to park management with problem animals, snares and restocking of the newer parks," says Markus. He adds that strategically the department assists with park planning, setting appropriate and applicable objectives within the management structures of conservation and also with research." In recent years the department has worked closely with the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park on both sides of the border