Skip to main content
Monthly Archives

October 2015

Staff Feature: Dale Airton

By Rhino River Lodge

This month’s staff feature is Rhino River Lodge’s co-owner and general manager Dale Airton. Dale has been working in conservation his entire adult life and has been managing Rhino River Lodge since its inception over 10 years ago. Here he has shared a little bit about himself with us…

Dale inserting a microchip into a rhino’s horn

 


Tell us about your background in conservation and how you ended up at Rhino River Lodge. As a family we have holidayed in game reserves for as long as I can remember. Growing up I spent all my free time on our friend, Rob Acutt’s game farm outside PMB. He took me under his wing and taught me all about the bush and instilled in me a conservation ethic. From a little boy, I always knew what I wanted to do. I studied conservation at Saasveld and was lucky to do my practical year at Imfolozi Game Reserve. After my studies were finished I was offered a contract at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi doing elephant and lion monitoring, from there I moved to black rhino monitoring. I did a short stint on Wilderness trails then spent a little time overseas. After that I began working for the San Diego Zoological Society managing a black rhino field research project, also in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. The research project was part of WWF’s black rhino research range expansion team, which is how my family discovered the Zululand Rhino Reserve and we ended up buying a property in the reserve and starting Rhino River Lodge.
Dale feeding an orphaned elephant
What is your favorite part of your job? My days are completely unpredictable. No day is ever the same. And I get to spend a lot of time out in the bush which always makes me happy.
Dale assisting with a leopard relocation
Do you have a favorite animal to spend time with in the bush? Rhinos. The vast majority of my conservation career has been centered around rhinos. They have an aggressive reputation but in reality they are incredibly nervous and almost helpless in the modern world. They are also very peaceful animal to spend time with. 

 

You sometimes take guests walking at Rhino River Lodge…what is different about a bush walk as opposed to a game drive? In my opinion, on foot is the best way to experience the bush. Game drives have the advantage of covering more ground and ticking off more species but a bush walk gets you much closer to nature. Being on foot allows you to take in a lot more of the smells and the sounds and gives you a good insight into how the animals behave and work together on a daily basis. 

 

Dale taking guests on a bush walk

 

How do you incorporate your conservation ethic into the business you run? The experience we strive to give all of our guests is as authentic a bush experience as possible. Having a good conservation ethic can influence every decision you make in a lodge like this, from what food you put on your menu to what type of structures you build and how you build them. The environment and the animals come first…without them we would not have a tourism business to run. 

 

Dale and local community members attending a rhino darting excersize

 

Is it challenging raising a child in this environment? No, it’s a privilege to be able to raise a child in this environment. My little boy has the childhood of my dreams. One of the advantages of my job and lifestyle is that he is able to spend a lot of time with me out in the bush. At not even two years old he’s already seen rhinos on foot and knows all the animals out on safari. 
Dale and his son feeding our rhino poaching survivor, Lucky

 

Dale and his family in the Msunduze River which runs past Rhino River Lodge

 

Rhino River Lodge takes rhino poaching personally

By Black Rhino, Conservation, Rhino River Lodge, White Rhino

The rhino poaching crisis is continuing unabated. All too frequently we are bombarded with violent images of rhinos slaughtered, survivors with their horns brutally hacked off leaving horrible wounds, and poachers shot dead during battles with anti-poaching units. The tragic headlines and images assault us almost daily. The news is important and the world needs to know. The world needs to see what is happening, but sometimes with this constant barrage, we end up becoming de-sensitised. We emotionally disconnect because it’s the only way we can handle processing the brutality that we are being shown. 

 rhino-and-calf

For me, this rhino war is personal. My home is Rhino River Lodge on the Zululand Rhino Reserve. So far, we have lost 11 rhinos to poachers on our reserve. The reserve is large, so I didn’t personally know all of those rhinos, but I did know a couple. These are animals that we saw every day, which form part of the fabric of life in our game reserve. They consisted of females that raised multiple calves through the years, and males who staunchly defended their territories. My memories of these animals, juxtaposed with images of the poaching crime scenes leaves me devastated.

rhino-river-lodge-rhino

My husband is actively involved in anti-poaching activities on the reserve, and he often risks his life protecting our rhinos. He spends time on patrol in the evenings instead of being home with his family. But he is just one of the many men and women risking their lives to hold down the frontline in this war.

white-rhino

We have a rhino that lives on our property that is a survivor of a poaching attempt. She was shot in the head and the bullet lodged next to her spine. Against the odds, she survived, but she is still fighting for her life and we are supplementarily feeding her to get her through the long, dry winter. – See more at: http://africageographic.com/blog/rhino-river-lodge-takes-rhino-poaching-personally/#sthash.jVqs50Cr.dpuf

We have a rhino that lives on our property that is a survivor of a poaching attempt. She was shot in the head and the bullet lodged next to her spine. Against the odds, she survived, but she is still fighting for her life and we are supplementarily feeding her to get her through the long, dry winter.

lucky-the-rhino

I have a one-and-a-half-year old son who goes out with his father every day to feed this rhino. When he first started talking, every time he saw long grass he would grab handfuls and hold it out and say “rhino”. When he sees other rhinos on game drives, he holds out his little hand and waves them in, saying “come”. Come rhino, we will feed you, we will protect you.

lucky-rhino

We all need to realise that this rhino war is personal. Every time you see an image of a rhino slaughtered, remember the value of its life. We are all losing our heritage. Every time you hear news of a ranger killed protecting our rhinos, mourn for their mothers and fathers, wives or husbands, and for their daughters and sons. If you know a ranger, thank them and their families for their sacrifice. We are all losing a lot more than lives in this fight.

rhinos-kwazulu-natal

Every time you hear of a poacher killed, spare a moment to think that they too have innocent people that loved them – parents, spouses and children. We, every one of us, need the violence and death to stop.

rhino-river-lodge

The following video is the story of our fight against poaching in the Zululand Rhino Reserve. It is not unique – we are just one of many reserves out there fighting in the war against rhino poaching. While there is one slightly graphic clip of a crime scene near the beginning of the video, we have chosen to honour the rhinos that have lost their lives and the people dedicated to this fight rather than to present lots of violent images. This is my story. This is our story. This is your story.

Watch video here

Written by Shannon Airton
Previously published on Africa Geographic

The following video is the story of our fight against poaching in the Zululand Rhino Reserve. It is not unique – we are just one of many reserves out there fighting in the war against rhino poaching. While there is one slightly graphic clip of a crime scene near the beginning of the video, we have chosen to honour the rhinos that have lost their lives and the people dedicated to this fight rather than to present lots of violent images. This is my story. This is our story. This is your story. – See more at: http://africageographic.com/blog/rhino-river-lodge-takes-rhino-poaching-personally/#sthash.jVqs50Cr.dpuf
Every time you hear of a poacher killed, spare a moment to think that they too have innocent people that loved them – parents, spouses and children. We, every one of us, need the violence and death to stop. – See more at: http://africageographic.com/blog/rhino-river-lodge-takes-rhino-poaching-personally/#sthash.jVqs50Cr.dpuf
My husband is actively involved in anti-poaching activities on the reserve, and he often risks his life protecting our rhinos. He spends time on patrol in the evenings instead of being home with his family. But he is just one of the many men and women risking their lives to hold down the frontline in this war. – See more at: http://africageographic.com/blog/rhino-river-lodge-takes-rhino-poaching-personally/#sthash.jVqs50Cr.dpuf

A rhino named Lucky

By Conservation, Rhino River Lodge, White Rhino

Recently guests at Rhino River Lodge have been getting up close and personal with a very special rhino that often approaches vehicles and rubs them with her horn in search of food. “Lucky” is her name, she is one of the rare survivors of a poaching attempt, and this is her story.

 

On 8th February we took a drive through the Zululand Rhino Reserve. The sweltering Zululand heat added further weight to the heavy burden that we were already carrying on our shoulders. The day before, a male white rhino had been found poached on our property and we were devastated. The idea was to drive through the reserve to clear our heads and to try to heal our hearts.

And that’s when we saw a white rhino calf wandering by itself, visibly out of sorts. And it was a calf that shouldn’t have been on its own. Female white rhinos give birth approximately every three to four years and, given the current poaching crisis, any time that a young white rhino is seen on its own, alarm bells go off in everyone’s heads. My stomach dropped: “Not another one. Please, not another one.”

So began our search for the calf’s mother. Thankfully the calf itself was old enough to survive on its own, and it joined up with other rhinos. The first step, therefore, was to try to account for all of the females that we knew frequented the area. We were able to confirm that an adult female was indeed missing as all the rhinos are identified by notch patterns in their ears. We searched, the anti-poaching patrols searched, and all the rangers searched. But for two weeks we couldn’t find anything. We were thankful and relieved that we hadn’t turned up a carcass, but worryingly we just couldn’t find the missing rhino.

Then came the call on the radio – a white rhino female had been located. She had been hiding in a thick cluster of bushes, was visibly injured, and her condition was poor. The vet was called and she was darted and treated. She had been shot in the head and the bullet had lodged next to her spine. Due to the bullet’s location, the vet was unable to remove it. A radio tracker was fitted to her ankle so we could relocate her, and she was darted and treated again a couple of weeks later. We affectionately dubbed her “Lucky” for surviving such a traumatic experience.

The injury has caused half of her face, including her ear, to droop. She appears to be blind in that eye and possibly deaf in that ear. Half of her mouth hangs down, making grazing and eating difficult.

lucky-the-rhino-who-survived

Then winter set in, and with it this year, a drought. As the quality of the graze diminished, so did her condition. The vet determined that darting her again for treatment would be too risky so now our only choice is to supplement her with food and treat her as best we can without having to anaesthetise her.

Every day now, come rain or shine, we attempt to find and feed her to get her through the long winter. Her condition fluctuates, as in her weakened state she is prone to injuries and doesn’t heal well from them. She is fighting tenaciously for her survival. We are doing all we can to support her in that fight.

We realise that Lucky is an ironic name for a rhino that has been shot in the head. But she is lucky, because she is one of the survivors when too many of her kind have died at the hands of poachers.

Lucky’s calf has settled in nicely with the other rhinos that she joined and is frequently spotted with them. She is doing very well as a young adult.

Lucky and her calf in 2012. Now she is old enough to be on her own and is doing fine.
Lucky and her calf back in 2012. Now she is old enough to be on her own and is doing fine.

Written by Shannon Airton
Previously published by Africa Geographic

Recently guests at Rhino River Lodge have been getting up close and personal with a very special rhino that often approaches vehicles and rubs them with her horn in search of food. “Lucky” is her name, she is one of the rare survivors of a poaching attempt, and this is her story. – See more at: http://africageographic.com/blog/rhino-named-lucky/#sthash.0uwtDlL1.dpuf

What to Expect on a Rhino River Lodge Safari

By Rhino River Lodge, Safaris


One question people often ask before they book a safari is “What can we expect to see during our stay?” This is especially pertinent when people are on their first safari or their first visit to a new game reserve. It’s always good to know what animals are living in the reserve you want to visit and what the likelihood is that you will get to see those animals. The Zululand Rhino Reserve is fast becoming one of the best wildlife viewing reserves in Kwa Zulu Natal. We thought we would let wildlife photographer Heidi Watson’s pictures from her recent four night safari serve as an example of what guests might expect to see while staying at Rhino River Lodge.

 

A male lion struts down the road

 


Our lodge is located in the southern portion of the Zululand Rhino Reserve, along the banks of the Msunduze River. The river is dry for a large portion of the year and comes down in flood during the heavy rains. However, the water which runs just under the surface and riverine vegetation combine for a habitat that supports large numbers of antelope species. Where the antelope go, the predators are sure to follow!
Two hyaena sighted near a suspected den site
These two brothers are a known cheetah “coalition” in the reserve.

The Zululand Rhino Reserve is a privately owned game reserve and what that means for guests is that there are no long queues at wildlife sightings. Guests are guided by professional game rangers on open-air game drive vehicles. While none of our animals are tracked for viewing purposes, our rangers stay in contact with each other and with the rangers from other lodges on the reserve to share information on sightings and to ensure that no more than two vehicles are ever on any sighting at the same time. This ensures a great game-viewing experience for our guests and also a low stress environment for our animals.
A tender moment as a baby giraffe nurses from its mother
A magnificent male waterbuck

 

The Zululand Rhino Reserve is home to the big five-elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and buffalo-but just as importantly we also protect a number of endangered species like cheetah, wild dog, and black rhino.
Close up and personal with a gentle giant
A special sighting of a rare black rhino
Endgangered and highly underrated, the social African wild dog is one of the most interesting carnivores to see
Comical ostriches run across the bushveld

 

If you are keen on birds you are in for a treat. The birding in the ZRR is world class. Even for those people not specifically interested in birds, the beautiful colours of many of our regularly viewed bird species are absolutely breath-taking and may just convert you into a “twitcher”.
It’s hard to believe a bird can be as beautiful as the little bee-eater
Oxpeckers feast on ticks off a zebra’s back
Magic moments at Rhino River Lodge

Each guest’s experience is unique and there is a bit of luck involved, but that’s all part of the magic of safari.
If you would like to book your safari at Rhino River Lodge please contact Reservations.