Looking back on 29 years of elephant and rhino conservation

To commemorate 50 issues of the Pachyderm journal, which began in 1983 as the African Elephant and Rhino Group Newsletter, a special 50th issue has been produced by the IUCN SSC African Elephant, African Rhino and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups.

Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) Photo: Susie Ellis. International Rhino Foundation

With the objective of engaging everyone involved in elephant and rhino conservation, Pachyderm has expanded over the years to become a forum for the IUCN SSC African Elephant and African and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups to share news and research results with a broad audience. The editorial board, made up of volunteers, strives to maintain a high quality publication and it is a testament to their abilities and dedication that the journal is still going strong at 50.

The commemorative 50th issue includes some fascinating insights into on-the-ground conservation of elephants and rhinos, including the story of how an improvised medicinal spray was used to treat an injured rhino calf’s ear.

In the late 1980’s Dr Satya Priya Sinha was monitoring reintroduced rhinos in Dudhwa National Park, India, an area well known for its man-eating tigers. The Indian Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) once roamed the flood plains of River Ganga and Yamuna but due to over-hunting and loss of habitat most were wiped out and are now restricted to small pockets of land. Rhinos were re-introduced to Dudhwa National Park into a 27km2 area enclosed by electric fence in 1984-85 and a monitoring programme initiated.

Early on the morning of 2nd March 1989, Dr Satya Priya Sinha and the rest of the rhino monitoring team set out on elephant back as usual to begin their monitoring work. A few hundred meters from the main entrance of the fenced area stood a female rhino. Dr Satya Priya Sinha spotted a small creature standing behind it and on closer inspection the creature was revealed to be a small rhino calf, still pinkish in colour. It was the first rhino calf born alive from the reintroduced rhino population!

The news caused great excitement, but the team quickly realized the calf would need protecting from tigers so a small nursery area that included water, grassland and woodland was quickly surrounded by electric fence. On either side of this nursery, two teams camped with their elephants, ready to chase away any tigers spotted near or inside the nursery.

While in the nursery, the young calf developed a problem with its ear which was badly injured and bleeding. Dr Satya Priya Sinha mixed together savlon antiseptic solution, turmeric powder, a small amount of phenyl and turpentine oil that he carefully sprayed onto the calf and her mother. Although at first both were reluctant to be sprayed by this solution, they soon learnt it gave them relief and kept the insects away, so they stood still while being sprayed. The improvised medicinal spray healed the calf’s ear and after a while the mother and calf were released out of the nursery area.

To read more personal accounts from the Pachyderm editors and people who work with African Elephants, African Rhinos and Asian Rhinos you can download the special 50th issue of Pachyderm here.

Work area: 
East and Southern Africa
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