10 July 2020
Hi everyone, welcome back!
Today I want to share an extremely exciting event that happened a few days ago. (For our very sensitive readers, there is a slightly sad part to this story but it has a very happy ending!)
Inkwenkwezi received a phone call from a local farmer who explained that she had an aggressive male ostrich on her farm, about 10 kms away from the reserve, and asked if we would dart and relocate it from her farm to our game reserve.
Now of course we accepted the offer with open arms as we have four and a half thousand hectares of beautiful reserve and plenty of potential mates for him.
During the year, around July and December, if you looked at a male ostrich (black and white feathers) you would notice a bright pink colour on their beaks and on the front of their legs, which they do not ordinarily have, and sometimes the rest of their legs even look a dark greyish/blue colour. This colouration is a clear indication that it is breeding season and the males get all these beautiful colours to attract females (grey/brown and white feathers) for mating. The male ostriches also become extremely aggressive during these two times of the year and very often run at and attack almost anything that moves near them. And unfortunately, that was the case for the farm workers on this particular farm.
We phoned our on-call Veterinarian, Luis, and arranged for the darting and relocation.
On the day of the darting everyone involved met at the reception area of Inkwenkwezi to have a meeting before heading out to dart.
Our relocation team was made up of Luis – the Veterinarian, Graham, Byron, Gareth and his two children (who came along to watch), Willem and me.
Whenever planning an animal relocation or dart, for whatever reason, you have to hold a meeting beforehand to plan exactly what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and why it needs to be done a certain way. For example, Luis explained to us that the best place to dart an Ostrich would be on its thigh as the dart needs to inject directly into muscle and obviously the dart won’t be able to get through all the feathers anywhere else on the body.
We also discuss certain dangers and scenarios that could arise during the operation. Everyone needs to be aware of the dangers and plans need to be formulated just in case anything does actually happen, which is unlikely. One of the dangers we discussed was that Ostriches kick forward and down. As they have such a long front toenail it can be deadly if the Ostrich manages to kick you. From this information we knew to obviously not stand in front of the Ostrich until it is properly sedated.
However, these experiences can be unpredictable at times and so you can never be fully prepared for every eventuality and you really need to keep calm, stay sharp and think on your feet.
When we finally arrived at the farm ready for action, we discovered that unbeknown to anyone the Ostrich had accidentally been caught in a recent veld fire and had a few serious injuries from the fire and smoke. His eyes were damaged from the fire and his eyelashes had singed and fused together, his feet were slightly burnt and he had some blood seeping out of his nose, mouth and ears from the smoke that had burnt his lungs. Unfortunately, things didn’t look very promising for him at this stage.
Nonetheless, we were not going to give up on him.
Since he was already sitting and quite weak, Luis only gave him half the dose of sedative, by hand, and we waited for him to fall asleep.
After about 15 minutes Luis approached the ostrich and wrapped a padded strap around each of his ankles. Each padded strap has a metal loop on it so that rope can be fed through the two metal loops and tightened in order to hold the legs together without hurting the ostrich in any way – the Ostrich couldn’t be injured by having his legs tied together by actual rope and we couldn’t get injured from him kicking us. (During relocation it is a top priority that neither the animal nor one of us gets injured in any way.)
Once the ostrich’s legs were secured with the straps and rope, the next step was to wrap a net neatly around him to hold his wings and legs closed for transportation. My assigned job was to tightly hold the rope so that he didn’t kick anyone while the rest of the team were wrapping the net around him. All of a sudden this feisty Ostrich had a quick burst of energy and kicked the padded strap straight off his left leg!
I managed to keep him from kicking anyone with his right leg, giving myself a rope burn on my hands in the process, and Willem luckily managed to grab his left leg securely before the Ostrich injured someone with it. (This was one of those think on your feet moments) The rest of the team (Byron and Gareth) managed to securely wrap the Ostrich in the net, we then quickly wrapped him in a shade cloth as well to protect him from the sun and so that we could pick him up onto the open vehicle more easily. A light bag was placed over the Ostrich’s head so that he couldn’t see anything – this greatly reduces stress.
On the back of the vehicle I was holding up his head and neck for the duration of the drive, while Willem and Gareth held him down (he kept trying to jump up and somehow managed to stand on my thigh in the process leaving me with a huge bruise) and Byron drove.
We drove through the reserve to a nice open area and positioned the vehicle so that we could easily offload our Ostrich.
While we were carefully offloading him, Willem was still on the back of the vehicle lowering the Ostrich down to Gareth, Byron and Luis when he lost his footing and fell forward – with nothing close to grab onto – and head-butted Luis who went flying down the small hill behind him. We all had to contain our laughter as Willem apologised profusely to Luis who came back rubbing his head exclaiming “Hey guys, what happened?”
At this stage I had handed my cell phone to Addy (Gareth’s daughter) and had asked her to take a couple photos of us offloading and treating the Ostrich. She took some beautiful photos and even captured some photos of Luis walking back to us rubbing his head.
Luis gave the Ostrich an antibiotic injection, which will last 14 days and hopefully ensure that he gets no infection in any of his wounds, and we cleaned out his eyes with eyedrops. Luis then administered the reversal drug and we all took a couple steps back – the reversal drug is fast acting. But the Ostrich just sat there looking around.
We kept an eye on him for about 20 minutes to make sure he was going to be alright and while we were doing that Grayden, Gareth’s son, collected all the stray Ostrich feathers lying around to keep as souvenirs of this adventure.
We left the Ostrich in peace to recover and have since been checking on him to make sure he is still alright. He is looking healthier every day. He hasn’t moved around much as his eyes are obviously still quite sore from being injured in the fire, so he spends most of his time sitting down and resting with his eyes closed.
On one occasion we were so happy to spot a female ostrich sitting with him – been on the reserve for only a few days and he is already impressing the ladies!
One of our female Ostrich having a dust bath – trying to impress the new male, do you think?
I’ll keep you updated from time to time as to how it is going!
Remember to keep well and stay safe.