Last week, I had the opportunity to shoot stills on a rhino project a friend was pitching to a number of US-based magazines. Knowing what this would entail, I wanted to cover it from the air as well as on the ground.
As the rhino were to be darted from the air, the first challenge was getting a seat on the helicopter. It was a small craft and due to the high dosage of morphine in the darts (potentially lethal to humans) no one is allowed to sit at the back with the vet/rifleman.
I had a small rig made to attach a GoPro vidcam to my stills camera so that it would see whatever the stills camera was pointed at.
The procedure was to take off and locate the rhino. Once located, a calf was singled out and darted from the helicopter (1:53).
We then pulled back to give him space and to allow the drug to take affect (2:06). We did our first swoop to check up on our darted calf (2:20) and although he was still standing the morphine was kicking in: he had slowed down and started to side step (2:44).
The mother was anxious and wouldn't leave her calf's side (2:58). Ground crew moved in to see if they could split them up (3:10) but she still wouldn't budge (3:33). We buzzed them again but still no luck (4:11).
Our final run (4:40), much like Apocalypse Now but instead of Wagner we had our car alarm sounding off, the two adults give way. The sight of the mother giving up was one of the saddest things I've ever witnessed.
We found a small clearing to touch down, and I made my way to where the ground crew had already covered the calf's eyes and were steadying him so he would not do any harm to himself (5:40).
The team notched an ear and implanted a micro-chip into the horn (7:12). This all took around 30 minutes then the area was cleared for everyone's safety, and the antidote given.
Ear notches enable researchers to correctly identify different individuals on the Reserve. Each rhino is given a unique ear notch number, and micro-chips are placed in the horn and body for identification and security purposes. Measurements, horn shavings and skin samples are also taken for DNA analysis.
Thanks again to Digital Brothers in Cape Town for supplying the extra camera gear and to &Beyond Phinda for making this all possible.
Check out the still images here:

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