Saving the Rhinos- One calf at a time!
“They are going to paradise!”. That’s what Arrie Van Devender, founder of the world’s first rhino orphanage, said to me when I asked where the rhinos were going. The wide smile filled with pride and satisfaction gleamed on his face. After 3 years of being at the Rhino Orphanage, it was now time to set these three rhinos free to roam larger grounds, to form a new herd and breed in their natural habitat. They will still be monitored and followed every day 24/7 by park and reserve rangers who will work vigorously to preserve their survival. For even in paradise lurks terror – the illegal poachers who kill for the rhino’s horn to sell on the black market to countries who believe that powders made from this horn, hold medicinal qualities, from fighting fevers to increasing libido, as an aphrodisiac.
Sadly, these countries value the money more than the life of the rhino itself. In the black market, the rhino’s horn is worth more than its weight than gold. Truly crazy when one thinks that this horn is made of keratin, the exact same substance that makes up our hair and fingernails. Yet, the crisis still exists and is getting even more dangerous as the illegal poachers find more ways to kill the white (and black) rhinos leading to their near extinction.
During my African stay, I was fortunate enough to participate in a mission to save the rhinos - a rhino capture and relocation. It was organized by my patient, Jaime Rupert, a volunteer for an amazing non-profit organization located in South Africa called Rhino 911. Its founder, Nico Jacobs, a friendly and highly courageous man, helped coordinate this experience for us. Nico and the Rhino 911 volunteers rescue baby rhinos after their mothers have been killed or injured for their horns in the wild by poachers. Abandoned calves are highly vulnerable - not able to fend or feed for themselves. Using trail cameras and intricate GPS methods, Nico and his skilled Rhino 911 volunteers identify the exact location of the harmed rhino and coordinate a helicopter for pick up and transport to an orphanage. The first 48 hours are critical to a calf’s survival. Without it, they would be left to die of starvation and dehydration.
Upon transport to the orphanage, the calf is stabilized and hydrated with specially formulated milk and watched 24/7 for a crew of devoted workers. This is where Arrie Van Devender’s orphanage comes in -dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, raising and release of orphaned rhinos back into the wild. Although newborn rhinos can weigh up to 50 kgs – approximately 110 pounds- they are essentially helpless, requiring protection to survive and ultimately thrive. In the wild, rhino babies are fiercely protected by their mother and stay with them until 3 years of age. Thus, at The Rhino Orphanage, intense caregiving and 24/7 attendance is provided to ensure their survival and ultimate release.
Here is a picture of a 3 -month male calf recently rescued after his mother was killed by poachers.
At the orphanage, they give pink blankets to the males.
At weaning age, direct human contact with the calves is broken, although the orphans still receive supplemental feed and 24/7 monitoring. Once they reach an age where they can survive on their own, they are relocated and released to a bigger area where they can form a new herd and start breeding.
This is what I was fortunate to be a part of – in the relocation of 3 rhinos- 2 young males and 1 adult female. The two young males had been rescued after their mother’s had been killed by poachers and brought to the Orphanage by Rhino 911’s helicopter after GPS location. The adult female was rescued after a poaching attempt. These three beloved animals were now going to be set free to roam, graze and thrive on protected land.
This concept of capture and relocation may sound like an easy feat – but it is NOT! For it takes a village of trained staff to perform this mission- from sedating the rhinos with a dart gun, to coaxing and guiding them into the transportation vehicles (usually a 3-4 person job) and other volunteers to coordinate the transport. For the relocation journey, earplugs are placed and rhinos are blindfolded to make the trip less stressful.
Here’s a picture of me and my friends with Dr. Pierre Bester, the skilled veterinarian who assisted the team that day. The gun is a dart gun used to sedate the rhinos for capture and transport.
Here is a picture of Dr. Bester drawing a tube of blood from the female rhino to see if she might be pregnant.
The blood will show if she is truly pregnant and provide an estimate of how far along she may be. The typical rhino gestation period is approximately 15 – 18 months and she will be closely monitored by the rangers at her new home base.
To see these incredible creatures, the majestic rhinos, as well as the extreme care and love shown by all of the Rhino 911 and The Rhino Orphanage staff, was a treasure and experience of a lifetime! No words can accurately express the gratitude and new found hope for these precious animals. Yet, your support is needed to continue with these efforts.
I want to thank all of the dedicated staff at The Rhino Orphanage, including Arrie Van Devender, Sara, Yolanda and Jaymie Traynor, a veterinary student, specializing in care of animals in the wild.
A huge thank you also goes to the founder of Rhino 911, Nico Jacobs, and the dedicated volunteers of Rhino 911 including Jamie Rupert, my dear patient and Norman Blignaut, our guide who watched over us that amazing day.
Please consider a one-time donation or a monthly donation to each of these incredible non-profit organizations who are striving to keep the rhinos safe and secure from poaching efforts. With your help, we can save one rhino calf at a time - ultimately releasing them to “paradise.”
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