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Game ranger Sboniso Mthembu was in high spirits on Monday, despite having been gored by a black rhino last week.
“It is a dangerous job but I always knew that,” he said, speaking from The Bay Hospital in Richards Bay where he, and his partner, Zamukulunga Khuzwayo, both 28, were recovering after the attack.
The men were cornered by three rhinos in the Imfolozi section of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game park in northern KwaZulu-Natal last Thursday.
The two have worked at the park for four and three years respectively, and were patrolling the area opposite the staff camp when they saw the animals.
“There was a bull on the left, a female on the right and another in the middle. I don’t know if that one was a male or a female,” said Mthembu.
The animals were between 30m and 40m away from the rangers and Mthembu said he was not worried at that stage.
“We know that the black rhino’s eyesight is not that good, so we decided to keep quiet and hide in the thick bush.”
The bull walked past the rangers and they thought they were safe, but then it returned.
It lunged at Khuzwayo, wounding him in the buttocks. Then it turned on Mthembu.
“I do not know what exactly happened but it got me in my leg and threw me up in the air.”
The next thing he knew Mthembu was lying on the ground, the rhino’s head pushed up against his. He was terrified.
“I had lost my rifle in all the commotion so I shouted at Khuzwayo to shoot, but he had lost his weapon,” he said.
A few seconds later the rhinos disappeared.
“I pulled myself up, grabbed my rifle and called for help,” said Mthembu.
The rangers were expected to be discharged from hospital on Tuesday, but it would be a month before they were fit for work.
Mthembu said he loved his job and could not wait to get back in the field. Khuzwayo said he still wanted to be involved in protecting rhinos, but he was not sure if he would return to field work.
Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife chief executive officer Bandile Mkhize said the organisation would support the rangers, no matter how they chose to move forward.
“They are the most important people in our organisation, our foot soldiers,” he said, “Without them, conservation is nothing.”
Mkhize said that the organisation would not consider putting down the animal responsible for the attack. He said the incident would be viewed as an unfortunate one, but that it would be difficult to identify which rhino was involved.