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As you sit at your office desk this morning, rangers in Kenya are scouring the country's Tsavo National Park in a race against time to find a young rhino calf caught in a poacher's snare.

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A camera trap image of Bahati, showing a poacher's snare wrapped tightly around his neck. Image: Big Life Foundation/Facebook

The desperate search began late yesterday, says the team at Big Life Foundation, when a camera trap set up in the park recorded images of the male black rhino with a snare wrapped tightly around his neck. The animal was one the Big Life Foundation team knew well.

"Last year, poachers shot and killed this young rhino’s mother, hacking off her horns. He took a bullet in the neck that night, but somehow managed to escape into the darkness," says the conservation group in a Facebook update.

Wounded and alone, the youngster faced incredibly tough odds, yet managed to survive the ordeal, earning him the name "Bahati", which means "good luck" in Swahili. Thanks to camera traps set up around the park, rangers had been able to keep tabs on the lucky calf's progress, monitoring his recovery and watching his first hesitant attempts to form social bonds with other rhinos in the park.  

"Yesterday, one of the same camera traps provided distressing news – Bahati has a poacher’s snare around his neck. It’s a snare targeted at rhinos, made of thick cable that would have pulled tight around Bahati’s neck as he walked through it," says the team.

Although Bahati managed to snap the cable, his struggle to pull free has now embedded the snare deep into the skin around his neck. "[It] must have been a horrendous struggle," says the group. "If we don’t find him in time to remove the snare and treat the wound, Bahati will die."

Along with officials from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), as well as teams from THE TSAVO TRUST and The David Sheldrick Wildlife TrustBig Life Foundation rangers are now scouring the area in the hope of finding Bahati before it's too late. Spotter places and a helicopter have also been deployed, but locating the youngster in the thick bush promises to be a challenge.

"It is heartening to see so many different organisations coordinating the search. This might take days, or it might take weeks. There is no telling what the outcome will be, but no ranger on the job will rest until we have found Bahati. This little rhino deserves every bit of help we can give him," says the team.

Tsavo National Park, one of the oldest and largest in the country, has been hit hard by poaching in recent years. Its iconic elephant populations, almost wiped out before in the 1970s and 1980s, are under even greater threat today, with entire elephant families being butchered for their tusks. Last year, poachers killed Satao, one of Africa’s most revered "great tuskers". The park's rhinos are also being targeted as Asian demand for their horns increases.

We'll be posting updates on the search for Bahati as they come in. You can also follow along using the hashtag #FindBahati.


From Big Life Foundation, posted late on Friday:

[The rangers] made a small breakthrough: tracks, undoubtedly belonging to Bahati. The tracks were fairly old, having been left sometime in the early morning, but were still a strong sign of hope, an indicator that Bahati is still alive. Buoyed by this success, the rangers pushed on. Eventually, they reached a patch of dirt with tracks showing that Bahati had only just left, probably after catching their scent. Because it was now too late to get a helicopter in the air, the rangers pulled back, so as not to frighten him further. Unfortunately, Bahati will spend another night with the snare around his neck. But to be so close to him was a big step forward. The rangers have narrowed down the search area, and will have a fixed starting point from which to track tomorrow morning, when the whole process starts again.

From Big Life Foundation, posted late on Saturday:

Three days into the search, the rangers did not stop until darkness forced them back to base. Bahati is still out there, but the rangers tracking him found many encouraging signs today, including fresh dung and evidence that he has been feeding. He also appears to be staying within the same general area, which helps to narrow the search grid.

From Big Life Foundation, posted late on Sunday:

On the fourth and final day, rangers set out at the crack of dawn to resume the search for Bahati.

Big Life and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers started the day full of hope and optimism that there could still be a happy outcome; fresh tracks were spotted mid-morning and ground teams were sent in. Veterinary services and helicopter support from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust were called in on stand by.

During the night, Bahati had retreated into extremely dense brush and sharp lava fields. Against all odds, the rangers managed to spot him in the distance and immediately called in the helicopter. A KWS veterinarian succeeded in darting Bahati from the air with a tranquilizer, then landed and rushed to his aid.

Tragically, the metal snare had cut too deeply into Bahati’s neck. The wounds were severe, and septicemia had already set in. Exhausted and traumatized from the ordeal, Bahati succumbed to his injuries and did not awake from the anesthesia.

We are all devastated by the loss of this special little rhino.

Through our grief, we are grateful that so many came together in the attempt to rescue one of the few rhinos alive in this small corner of East Africa. In particular, we thank the Kenya Wildlife Service and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. We are also extremely thankful for the encouragement we have received from supporters around the world who bolstered our efforts.

Bahati joins his mother now … may they rest in peace.

Top header image: Marat Assanov, Flickr