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Durban - Two Ezemvelo game rangers were lying injured in hospital in Richards Bay on Thursday night after being attacked by a black rhino bull in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
Rangers Z Khuzwayo and S Mthembu are thought to have stumbled upon a family group of three rhinos in dense bush and were unable to flee or fire warning shots.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesman Musa Mntambo said the rangers, in their late twenties, were taken to the Bay Hospital. One was badly gored in the thighs, while his colleague was struck in the buttocks.
Men in Ezemvelo uniforms could be seen waiting in the hospital reception area on Thursday, worry etched on their faces. But in the casualty ward, Khuzwayo and Mthembu - while dazed - were awake and appeared stable.
Hospital general manager Heinrich Venter said the rangers were not in a condition to speak to the media.
Patrick Sibeko, conservation manager of the Imfolozi section of the park, said the attack happened at about 9am while Khuzwayo and Mthembu were patrolling near Sontuli Loop in the north-west corner of Imfolozi.
They had to be carried out of the bush on stretchers for about 600m before being put into an ambulance.
“It appears the rangers were caught by surprise when they came across an adult bull, adult female and a calf. They had just crossed a river and were climbing up a steep ridge and it seems the rhinos smelt them or heard them walking. We think it was the adult bull that attacked both men,” he said.
“First it attacked Khuzwayo and when he was finished with him, it went after Mthembu while he was trying to run away.”
The men’s screaming and shouting for help may have driven the bull away.
One of the rangers used his radio to call for help.
Peter Goodman, a former Ezemvelo scientist who survived a similar attack several years ago, said he knew how quickly black rhinos could attack.
Black rhino bulls can weigh up to 1.5 tons and reach speeds of around 55km/h.
“They can accelerate from nought to full speed in about four gallops,” he said.
Recalling his own encounter with a charging bull in the Mkhuze Game Reserve in 1992, Goodman said: “It was instantaneous. There was no time to react.
“I was in very dense riverine vegetation - hands and knees stuff. The air was very still and I was about 12m away from the rhino, peering at it from the bush. It was lying down, but wasn’t asleep.”
Although it was not windy, the animal gradually picked up his scent.
“I was looking at it through my binoculars when it stood up suddenly. It ran straight at me and before I knew it, it was on top of me.”
One of the horns smashed through his chest and punctured his lung and Goodman also suffered injuries to his leg. Luckily, colleagues heard the commotion and fired a warning shot which drove the animal away.
Goodman was knocked unconscious, but when he awoke he had to hobble almost 1km to reach a clearer spot where a helicopter was waiting to take him to hospital.
“I passed out straight away when it hit me in the chest, so I really don’t know what happened after that. All I know is that my body was covered in roasties and scabs when I got to hospital and I battled to unstick myself from the bedsheets from all the dried blood.”
Goodman spent nine days in hospital.
The former regional ecologist for Maputaland said attacks by black rhinos were more frequent as they favoured dense bush, whereas white rhinos were generally found in more open, grassy terrain.
“So you are more likely to come across black rhinos at close quarters because of their habitat.
“Rhinos have a very good sense of smell and hearing, but their eyesight is not as good.
“There have been lots of people tossed and damaged at Mkhuze by black rhinos over the years, but in fact the only fatal attack in that reserve that I can remember involved a white rhino.”