This is the moment a black rhino had to be rescued with an excavator when it got stuck deep in a dry watering hole.
The critically endangered animal is said to have waded in because of some surface water but was unable to get out again.
An employee patrolling the Phinda private game reserve found the animal and immediately assembled a team to begin a rescue operation.
The team used a metal bobcat digger to create a path, and after two hours of digging, the animal was finally freed.
The KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, where the reserve is located, is currently suffering from a prolonged drought that has devastated crops and livestock.
Severe water shortages mean that irrigation holes have dried up, creating dangerous mud pits.
Simon Naylor, conservation manager at the sanctuary, and his team had to work immediately as the animal was clearly suffering.
After considering his options – including a helicopter rescue or pulling a rope around the animal’s neck – he decided the best way to rescue the rhino was to use an excavator.
This was the safest option because they also didn’t want to put themselves in a dangerous situation if the rhino at.t.acked, a person couldn’t move fast enough in the mud.
They also considered launching and giving him a sedative or tranquilizer but were concerned that he would hang his head and drown in the mud.
He said: ‘The black rhinos are large and dangerous animals. We couldn’t reach him with a rope because the mud was too thick for a human.
‘I also didn’t want to get close as that would put more stress on him and could also be dangerous for someone who comes close and can’t move quickly in the mud if needed.
‘At first, it was stressed with the machinery and the noise. But it was calm again, and there were not too many signs of stress or discomfort. ‘
He added: ‘Only when the bucket approached or dug next to its head, it reacted and attempted to horn the bucket.
‘When it showed up, it appeared to be completely unharmed. He went for a while to just get out of the mud and into the void we had created. Then walked off into the bush. ‘
This rescue mission was critical to the park as they have lost six of their endangered animals to po.ac.hing in the past few years.
He said: ‘Poa.c.hing is done by well-organized syndicates and multinational organized crime. We are fighting this on all levels.
‘On the ground, in the courts, and across borders. But just like drug trade or human trafficking, we are up against well-funded and well-resourced criminals. ‘