There is never a dull day for Ol Pejeta’s wildlife veterinarian Dr. Stephen Ngulu. Always on hand to respond to emergencies involving an endangered or threatened species, Stephen never quite knows what the day will throw at him. What he does know, is that a callout is very likely to involve sharp teeth, big horns, or huge tusks!
Tranquilising wild animals involves risk to both the animal, and the team on the ground, so before he decides to take that risk Stephen likes to assess the animal from afar. He considers whether the animal is responding to natural stimuli, whether it is feeding or has access to water, and the extent of an infection if any.
It was this assessment that he was carrying out one morning, in response to reports of a black rhino that was so injured it could barely walk. On foot, Stephen carefully approached the injured rhino, checking for signs of injury or distress. He got to within 50 meters from her, when the rhino charged.
Not expecting this from a rhino who reportedly couldn’t walk, Stephen was taken by surprise, and ran in the opposite direction. Before long, his legs gave out, and he fell. With the rhino hot on his heels, he was convinced of a serious injury. The rhino ran over his knee and continued charging forward, and off into the bush, leaving Stephen on the ground. Rhinos have incredibly poor eyesight, and it’s likely she would not have noticed Stephen falling. “I laid there until the team I was with came to lift me up, I could not believe I had survived, it was a miracle!” says Stephen, who escaped with only a minor injury. Remarkably, the incident only made him more determined to do his job. “I made an oath that day to protect all animals and meant it, I know they are living beings and that I am their voice and that is what keeps me going.”