Photographer Em Gatland said she had no idea what she was in for when she was called upon to document the airlift of a white rhino in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The airlift was conducted by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife last month.
Gatland said the crew included three vets, three pilots, and roughly five ground staff and a game capture manager.
“What stood out the most is how precise this operation is. Every single man has an invaluable role to play. It’s a team effort,” she said.
She said the team takes all precautions to ensure the rhino is comfortable and under minimal stress. It is blindfolded, has ear plugs and is under anesthetic.
“The time span in the air is for a short period, roughly 10 minutes or so,” Gatland said. But, she added, “Every time you see it being lift you do say a silent prayer for it though.”
Megan Lategan from Wildlife Act says rhinos are captured and relocated to reduce the chance of inbreeding, thus resulting in stronger bloodlines, which is ultimately beneficial for the future of the species.
Lategan said as strange as it may seem, airlifts are the best way to move the massive creatures.
“It allows them to be captured from any location; the rhino spends less time under anesthetic and ultimately endures less stress from the procedure,” she said. “The significant improvement in this area has led to a marked increase in the success of relocating white rhino.”
“Gone are the days of large drug doses and corralling a dazed animal into a convenient location,” she said.
Last year was perhaps the worst year for rhinos in modern history.
More than 1,000 rhinos were killed by poachers, the highest since record keeping began in the early 1900s, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.
“Watching these guys put their lives on the line for a deep love and care for the Rhino left me seeing the good vs. evil battle that is being fought,” Gatland said.