Michelle Jones

MOTIONLESS, with its legs raised in the air, Absa the rhino lies dead in the veld.

For more than five days the rhino, an 11-year-old male, fought to live after having one horn sawn off with a chainsaw by poachers and the other partially removed.

Absa was found dead early yesterday morning by a team of rangers and veterinarians.

The rhino died in the exact spot where on Sunday it had managed to struggle to its feet for the first time since the attack.

In the early hours of Saturday a group of poachers jumped the fence at Aquila Private Game Reserve and darted three rhinos.

One, a six-year-old male, was found dead soon afterwards with both of its horns hacked off with a machete.

Absa's four-year daughter was darted but otherwise unharmed.

Aquila owner Searl Derman said nothing could have prepared him for the pain and disgust he had experienced over the last few days.

It had been planned that Absa would be moved early yesterday to a boma created from donated shipping containers.

Inside the boma Absa would have received medical care and undergone an x-ray to its injured leg, in safety away from scavengers.

"This is a devastating loss. We worked throughout the night to erect a temporary boma. (In the) morning we were shocked to find the rhino ... lying lifeless in the veld."

Derman struggled to speak and to hold back tears throughout yesterday.

"Helpless and desperate feelings are motivating me to fight back. The deaths of our two rhino will not be in vain."

Aquila is developing a plan for an aggressive anti-poaching initiative. A training facility will train anti-poaching instructors and provide high tech surveillance and alarm forewarning systems that can be issued free to all private game reserves with rhino that can't afford it.

Derman said invaluable lessons had been learned from the incident.

It had been shown how the technology, equipment and resources needed to save drugged and dehorned rhinos were not readily available.

"I've realised how difficult it is to get the right highly restricted drugs in the case of an emergency. Many of the rural vets that are first on the scene don't carry the large doses of antidote tranquillisers needed to revive a darted rhino.

"No one has yet commissioned engineers and prosthetic specialists to design a leg support system given that muscle and organ failure, other than major stress or blood loss, are one of the leading causes of death."

Standing in the veld yesterday afternoon, Derman and his team discussed how and where to dig the hole in which Absa would be buried.

Also there was veterinarian Marc Walton who had treated the rhino since the attack.

He had checked on Absa on Wednesday night, just hours before he died.

"The important thing was not to scare him so we assessed him from a distance and noticed he wasn't moving as much as he should."

The decision had then been made to move the rhino at first light to the boma.

"We came to check on him before we did the whole moving process. He was not moving. He was dead."

Walton had then performed a post mortem and found the rhino had suffered multiple organ failure, likely due to stress and blood loss.

Asked whether anything more could have been done for Absa, Walton said: "Looking back, I wouldn't have done a single thing differently."

He said the team had constantly faced the very difficult decision of whether to approach the rhino, causing it further stress or to watch from a distance.

"That's a very tough decision. We did consult with the best vets. It wasn't an isolated decision."

Since Saturday's attack support had poured in for Aquila and Absa.

Thousands of concerned people had visited their website and Facebook page leaving messages of support and donations.

"I thank everyone involved who has assisted in one of the biggest and most costly attempts to save a rhino in South Africa. Since Saturday the world has watched Absa fight to live and battle against death," Derman said.

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