Rescuers Spend 5 Days Saving Horse Stuck on Disappearing Vaal Island
Photo Cred: 9th Day Animal Rescue Centre

A group of volunteers spent five days working together to save a horse stuck on a disappearing island in the middle of the Vaal River.


Johannesburg, South Africa (05 January 2021) – Charmaine Booysens – the founder of 9th Day Animal Rescue Centre – shared a story about how volunteers spent five days and four nights trying to help a horse stuck on an island… that was quickly disappearing.

Booysens just wanted to thank the “regular people who rallied together to save the stallion”.

“There were so many rescue teams involved, and everyone came up with what seemed to be the perfect rescue plan until it had to be executed. Everything is easy when drawing pictures and planning it in our head, but actually putting that plan in place proved to be impossible,” a 9th Day Animal Rescue Centre representative explained.

They had many ideas on how to rescue the horse, but all had risks.

“Do you try and lead the horse across the river? Risking him not only drowning or being swept away with the current but breaking legs due to the diverse levels of the sandbanks. Do you sedate the horse and try and lift 300kg+ dead weight onto a boat and try and get him across the river? Knowing that should anything happen and the boat tips, it is a life lost.”

The water level was rising, and the team had no certainty that the island would still be there by Wednesday morning. So, the team on the ground decided to go with a rescue plan that was a bit riskier but had the most significant chance of getting the horse to the other side.

Rescuers Spend 5 Days Saving Horse Stuck on Disappearing Vaal Island
Photo Cred: 9th Day Animal Rescue Centre

Paolo Selicati – one of the volunteers – was confident that it would work and he could get the horse to the other side, alive.

Losing the horse wasn’t an option. In fact, he was willing to risk his own life if it came to that.

“The plan was to sedate him, load him on the tube/rubber boat, get him to the other side and viola. Bob’s your uncle. Well, as I said before in your head and on paper, everything seems simple.”

Dr Johan Kriek arrived to sedate the horse – he had to cross over to the fast-disappearing island to get to him.

Mari Wiese – another volunteer – waited on the other side. She could hear the team shouting.

“One, two, three… lift. Again, again… one, two, three… LIFT.”

Then she saw the rubber boat in the distance, but to her disbelieve, something hit the water. They had failed. Mari started crying; she believed this was “it”. They had lost the horse.

But they hadn’t!

As the boat approached, Mari could see the horse safely in the watercraft and realised that some volunteers were missing. Two of them had fallen off the boat and into the river.

Before they left the island, Paolo and the team agreed that if anything went wrong and they ended up in the river, they must not panic. The horse was the main priority, but the plan was if something did go wrong, then they would send a boat back. And this is precisely what happened. As soon as the horse was safely on the shore, Paolo immediately returned to his fellow rescuers.

“Dr Johan Kriek was ready and immediately gave the horse what he needed to reverse the sedation and obviously something to help with the shock; he was amazing and so calm while everyone was in a bit of a panic he gave the horse a thorough check and made sure all is well.”

“Everyone unanimously decided that the stallion should be named in honour of ‘the man with the plan’, and so the island horse was christened as Paolo.

Paulo got the ‘royal treatment’ and was escorted to a place of safety, cars being stopped and robots being blocked – you name it, this boy has been through enough, he deserved a bit of a fuss. He seems to be in good spirits and is eating well.

The 9th Day Animal Rescue Centre team was so inspired by the community rallying together to save this horse and that they wanted to thank everyone involved personally.

“I would like to thank the following people; this is what rescue is about. A group of people coming together with one common goal – saving a life.”

Here’s a list of everyone involved – and a special note of thanks:

  • Johan and Mari Wiese, your determination and perseverance is what made this possible. Spending every day there, waiting for the right plan. Mari, thank you for the constant updates (late at night, early in the morning, during the chaos) – we cried, prayed, cursed and laughed together. I have a feeling that our paths crossed for a reason.
  • Dr Johan Kriek, my words fail me; thank you for sedating this boy and for being by his side when he reached the shore to make sure he is 100% okay. Thank you for seeing in this boy what we all saw, a life that needed saving.
  • Paolo Selecati & Dean Goosen, you both deserve a medal of honour. Honestly, you do. Not only did you drive to Barkley West from Johannesburg (yesterday and today), but you were determined that this horse would be saved. Paolo, to you the plan was foolproof, others had their doubts, but you KNEW it would work. Thank you for your commitment and determination. This could have ended very differently if you didn’t step up.
  • Llewellyn Coetzer, Lu-Gene Coetzer, Genie Coetzer, Conrad van Aswegen, Sean Ralph, Ryno Griesel and Wendy de Villiers, you also played a HUGE part in this AMAZING rescue. Your support and assistance really meant sooo much.
  • Marco Claasens from Barkly’s Nest Private Fishing Estate, thank you for letting all the people have free access to your property, and when they needed it, it really meant sooo much.
  • Kimberley SPCA / DBV, for your assistance and support, it really meant sooo much/
  • Last but not least, Thank You Lord for hearing our prayers. Again, You got the right people together with the right plan to save a life.

Thank you to the 9th Day Animal Rescue Centre for sharing the story. Thank you to all the volunteers who assisted. Thank you to all the organisations for rallying together to help this horse. And to all of South Africa, please keep supporting all the organisations who love and care for our animals.

Rescuers Spend 5 Days Saving Horse Stuck on Disappearing Vaal Island
Photo Cred: 9th Day Animal Rescue Centre

Sources: 9th Day Animal Rescue Centre
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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