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On assignment: Getting face to face with a rhinoceros

By Meghan Frank
Rock Center

We first began looking into a story on rhino poaching after we read about a string of museum thefts across Europe. Thieves were breaking into natural history museums, not to steal priceless Egyptian antiquities but to rip the horns off of century old stuffed rhinos. Why was this happening? The value of rhino horn had skyrocketed to record levels, sometimes worth more than gold on the black market, so suddenly criminal syndicates were trying to get a hold of rhino horn any way they could. We thought if this is happening to dead rhinos in museums, what is happening to live rhinos in the wild. As we began to research the story we were stunned to discover how desperate the plight of the rhino has become worldwide, and in South Africa in particular.

NBC News

Out of five species of rhinoceros, 3 are considered critically endangered. One of the last places that rhinos still exist in large numbers is South Africa, a country with an incredible record of protecting this species. But the price of rhino horn has climbed so high, that the rhinos in South Africa are suddenly threatened like never before. For decades a dozen or so rhinos were poached a year, but that number has been skyrocketing since 2008. Last year almost 450 rhinos were brutally slaughtered in South Africa for their horns. And already this year South Africa is losing a rhino a day.

We knew we needed to travel to South Africa to witness what was happening in that country. When we got there we met veterinarian Will Fowlds, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. A passionate vet and owner of a wildlife reserve, Will has been deeply affected by the poaching crisis. He’s lost several rhinos to poaching, including one named Geza that he had to treat after its horn was brutally cut off. His loss has become a call to action. He’s now doing whatever it takes to save the rhinos in his region.

Harry Smith sat down to interview Will Fowlds at his friend Graeme Rushmere’s game reserve, the site where Will’s rhino Geza was attacked. But we also wanted to show Will working as a vet, toiling to protect these animals. He invited us to come along as he tagged and micro-chipped a rhino at a nearby game reserve called Kwandwe. It was the perfect opportunity to see Will in his element and get an insight into the lengths that game reserve owners are going to protect their rhinos.

In our story you see Will Fowlds tagging a rhino at the top of part two.  What hopefully looked seamless in the piece, took an army of people and cameras working together to get that footage.  Here’s a peek behind the scenes of how we got some of the shots that you watched on the air...  like when Will expertly shoots a dart at a rhino running full speed on the ground, all the while dangling out the door of the helicopter, all seen from his perspective.

If you want to learn more about rhino poaching in South Africa and around the globe please check out the links below:

Click here to watch Harry Smith's full report, 'Last Stand.' The report aired Feb. 22 on Rock Center with Brian Williams.