By Shaun Smillie
Close to the bushveld town of Mookgophong,a vet sighted his gun on the lone black rhino standing bleeding in a boma.
Loaded in the dart gun was a powerful tranquilliser – the same kind used to sedate and kill countless rhinos so that poachers can remove their horns.
But this time the vet was on a mercy mission; in his sights was Noena, the miracle rhino.
Noena has been shot nine times – the same number as famed rap artist 50 Cent.
But she is one up on 50 Cent: those bullets are still deep inside her.
On Wednesday, Noena, still bleeding from bullet wounds received five days earlier, was moved to a place of safety.
Noena is one of a few rhinos to have survived, a poaching attack – not once, but twice.
The first attack was about two months ago, when poachers tracked her and her mate down on a game farm.
Using either R-4 or R-5 rifles, poachers opened fire, killing the one rhino. Noena was hit twice, in the foot and the shoulder.
To help her recover, the farmer moved Noena into a boma. And to ensure her future survival, the farmer had Noena’s horn removed.
But it wasn’t enough. Last Friday, at around 1am, poachers crept up to the boma and opened fire, again with R4-s or R5-s. The poachers aimed for her head, hitting her in the lip, the face, and a bullet even lodged at the base of her ear.
She was struck seven times.
As to why the poachers went after a hornless rhino, Selomie Maritz believes they thought there was still a piece of horn buried under the skin that hadn’t been removed.
It was Maritz, a member of Eblockwatch’s anti-rhino poaching initiative, who, upon hearing of Noena’s plight, began the search for a safe home for her.
“When I saw her, she had tears running down her face. If someone dies you give your condolences, but what can you do for a rhino?” said Maritz.
Farmers are now reluctant to give homes to rhinos, as few can provide the security against increasingly sophisticated poachers.
Maritz persevered and eventually found a farmer.
But moving Noena had its own worries and difficulties. Her wounds were infected, and no one knew if she could take it. “When she was given the tranquilliser, I didn’t know if she would wake up again,” said Maritz. She did.
Still groggy from the dart, they moved her onto the game truck and, working as covertly as possible, they took Noena to her new home.
While she was sedated, a vet tried to remove the bullet from the base of her ear, but he was unsuccessful.
They suspect it has made her deaf in that ear.
But Maritz need not have worried about the rhino’s wellbeing. Minutes after arriving, an angry Noena was snorting and mock-charging her saviours. Typical black rhino behaviour.
A course of strong antibiotics will be administered, and if her luck continues to hold, maybe her deafness will be only temporary.
In her new enclosure she will have a couple of white rhinos for company.
But Noena may have a higher calling. Maritz wants her to become the poster rhino for the country’s anti-poaching campaign. “Everyone has seen the ugly pictures. This is about our heritage and about live rhinos.” - The Star