South Africa's Rhino Orphanage helps keep baby rhinos safe from hunters
ENTABENI SAFARI CONSERVANCY, South Africa — Hunters in South Africa are killing rhinos. Killing rhinos is against the law. Hunters who break the law are called poachers. The shootings leave behind baby rhinos who have lost their mothers.
Many baby rhinos probably die. The lucky ones end up at The Rhino Orphanage.
Acting Like A Mother Rhino
Workers there act like mothers for the scared baby rhinos. They feed, walk and comfort them until they are ready to return to the wild. The rhinos learn to recognize voices, sleep in a stable and eat a milk substitute. They roll in the mud and play with each other and their human minders. The humans try not to get knocked over by these big, active babies.
The orphanage is very careful about keeping the rhinos safe. It wants to protect its rhinos from poachers. It keeps out all but selected visitors. It also does not tell its exact location. They say only that it is near the Entabeni wildlife park. The park is about a three-hour drive north of Johannesburg.
"These rhinos would be dead if there weren't a place to send them," Gabriela Benavides said. She is a veterinarian at the orphanage.
Some People Want Rhino Horns
Benavides spoke while three rhinos named Faith, Lunga and Matthew walked and slurped water from containers. The rhinos were all younger than 1 year old. They approached visitors behind a low wooden fence. The rhinos let people stroke and touch the rough skin on their heads.
Most of the world's rhinos live in South Africa. Hunters are a serious problem. They killed more than 1,200 of the country's rhinos in 2014. They are killing many more of them this year, too.
The poachers kill the rhinos because some people in Asia want their horns. These people believe the horns can be ground up and used as medicine. There is no scientific proof that the horns work as medicine.
Back To The Wild
South Africa rescued 16 rhino orphans in 2014. A dozen were placed with experts to care for them. Four others were placed with female rhinos in homes run by the government, said Edna Molewa. She is a government official. The females act as mothers, Molewa said.
Molewa said eventually the rhinos should go back to the wild to live.
The Rhino Orphanage was started in 2012. The mothers of most rhinos at the orphanage were shot. The orphanage says it has raised and released nine rhinos back into the wild. Workers at the orphanage do not say how many rhinos are there. No signs show where The Rhino Orphanage is. All these steps are taken to protect the rhinos.
Stopping The Poachers
Poachers will "go for any little bit" of horn said Dex Kotze. The will even go after young rhinos, Kotze said. Kotze is part of a group that is in charge of the orphanage. Kotze said it costs about $32,000 a month to run the orphanage. Several similar orphanages have opened elsewhere in South Africa, he said.
On one occasion, poachers were on their way to the orphanage. They did not know that the government knew their plan. A secret government agent had become part of their group. The suspects were arrested, Benavides said.
A Secret Orphanage
International workers help with the rhinos. They turn off the location settings on their phones while they are at the orphanage. They do not post pictures online. The workers do not want to give away where the orphanage was located.
The rhinos do not have much contact with humans. It helps for when they are returned to the wild. The rhinos go back to the wild when they are 2 or 3 years old. It is the age at which they would usually become independent.
Benavides said it was rewarding to help rhino orphans. It also worries her. "You don't know what's going to happen to them when you finally let them go," she said.