Johannesburg, here we come!
At long last, the day we had been planning for dawned, along with a feeling of uneasy deja vu for us! But this time, the crates were ready, Louis had his team ready to switch the containers, and the veterinarians would be on hand to help load the rhinos and sign the last minute paper work.
We we once again packed our bags and tried occupy ourselves through the morning, hoping against hope that all would go according to plan this time! We would be loading the rhinos in the evening and driving six hours through the night to Johannesburg in order to be there at 8:00 AM to check the rhinos in for their first flight. Driving at night served several purposes. We wanted to minimize the amount of time that the rhinos would be in their shipping containers, and it’s cooler to drive at night which is much more comfortable for the rhinos. Aside from the normal road hazards we were also worried about hitting traffic if we arrived too late in the morning. Johannesburg is infamous for having the worst traffic in the world, and the last thing we needed was for any hitch in our journey to be because of a traffic jam!
There was one more critical point to the ground transport. I have previously mentioned the poaching situation in Africa. Literally every rhino on the continent of Africa is in danger from poaching. Rhino horn is unfortunately extremely valuable on the black market so people will go to great lengths and take huge risks because the payoff is so big. Rhinos have even been hijacked and poached during translocation transports like ours. This is obviously dangerous to the people transporting the rhinos as well as to the rhinos themselves. Louis wasn’t taking any chances. Traveling at night when there was less traffic meant that not only could we travel faster, but less people would be around to wonder what was in our containers. There are many international regulations that determine how crates must be marked during transport by air, including “Live Animal” labels and also labels indicating the contents of the container. Large “Rhino on Board” labels aren’t exactly subtle. Louis was adamant that we not mark the containers until we were safely inside the cargo area at the airport behind locked gates. Until then our containers would just be three more non-descript shipping containers driving down the highway.
Thankfully, for once, the catch this night was that there was no catch. Louis’ crew is expert at moving animals. It was fun and exciting to watch them riding on the crates and chains as they swapped out the trainer containers for the shipping containers. The rhinos were given some more of the “happy drugs” that we used when we moved them down from their quarantine boma and they went into their crates without too much fuss. The crates were then loaded onto the flatbed trucks and secured for the journey. The whole process took about four hours, but finally we were ready.
Here is some video of the shipping containers being moved into place. Quite the production!
The HZI team loaded luggage and all of Dan’s camera gear into our rented vehicle that seemed to get smaller with each bag that we stuffed in, and at 9:15 PM we pulled out of Ngongoni Lodge and were finally, at last, after much ado, on the road with our three rhinos!