Wheels humming on the tar at what seems to be breakneck speed, cell phone going in and out of service and a sense of danger seeping through Karen Trendler’s voice. The Rhino Orphanage Response Project team has just been called out to rescue another rhino calf orphaned by poachers.
Apart from the trauma of losing their mothers, these calves suffer severe physical and emotional trauma during poaching incidents. While their lives have been spared, they are often found with fatal bullet and panga wounds and some have even been defaced. More than 80% of calves orphaned by poachers die due to a lack of caring facilities. And with them die breeding opportunities for these endangered animals.
The rhino orphanage, established a year and half ago in the Naboomspruit area, was the very first rhino orphanage in the world. Here a small number of dedicated volunteers try to make a difference by rehabilitating and ultimately conserving rhinos for future generations. It takes long hours, often sleeping in the cold trying to bring these calves back from near death.
Currently there are 4000 black and about 16 000 white rhinos left in the world. With one rhino being poached every 20 hours, an average of 2 calves are orphaned on a weekly basis – leaving Karen and her team at the Rhino Orphanage Response Project with their hands full.
“Our primary aim is to protect these orphaned calves and give them the best possible care to recover from trauma, while being careful not to let them get too tame. A tame rhino will not only have difficulty breeding and adjusting in the wild, but can also become a problem animal.”
For this reason the rhino orphanage, affiliated with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), is strictly non commercial. Calves get specialised, around the clock care from only two or three specific individuals for two to four years, which is how long they would normally stay with their mothers.
“They suckle for 18 months, but we can’t even consider releasing them into the wild before two and a half years, as they’re still very vulnerable to predators and poachers. It’s unethical to release them before they’re able to defend themselves. Here they get all the mothering and love that they need.”
As they get older they spend more time with the other calves and less with humans so they eventually are able to break all human bonds. Only then can they return to the wild and hopefully breed successfully.
“They have massive amounts of personality and are actually very bright when they have to be. They don’t waste energy on showing how clever they are, but they can handle a lot of pain and trauma without showing it. These prehistoric animals were here long before us. It would be terrible to see them driven to extinction because of man.”
This is Karen’s story of help. If you would like to help:
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