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SCIENCE
 

Rhino Orphanage in South Africa: an oasis of hope in fight against poachers

In this photo taken June 28, 2014, and supplied by a board director of The Rhino Orphanage, a baby rhino runs in the bush at the facility, which is near a lodge at the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in the northern part of South Africa.
In this photo taken June 28, 2014, and supplied by a board director of The Rhino Orphanage, a baby rhino runs in the bush at the facility, which is near a lodge at the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in the northern part of South Africa. Dex Kotze/The Rhino Orphanage via AP

ENTABENI SAFARI CONSERVANCY, South Africa — They are the most vulnerable victims of South Africa's rhino poaching problem. They are the baby rhinos that survive the shooting deaths of their mothers.

Many of the babies probably die of dehydration or other perils in the wild. Some lucky ones end up at The Rhino Orphanage, where workers become mothers to the traumatized young ones, feeding, walking and comforting them until they are ready to return to the bush. They learn to recognize voices, sleep in a stable, feed on a milk substitute, roll in the mud and play with each other and their human caretakers, who try not to get knocked over by these big, rambunctious babies.

Protecting Rhinos From Poachers

The orphanage takes extreme measures to protect its rhinos from poachers, who hunt rhinos illegally. It keeps out all but selected visitors and does not advertise its exact location. Managers say only that it is near a golf and safari resort at the Entabeni wildlife park in Limpopo province, about a three-hour drive north of Johannesburg.

"These rhinos would be dead if there weren't a place to send them," Gabriela Benavides, a Mexican veterinarian at the orphanage, said.

Benavides spoke at an enclosure where three rhinos named Faith, Lunga and Matthew trotted and slurped water from containers. The rhinos were all younger than 1 year old. They approached visitors behind a low wooden barrier, allowing themselves to be touched and stroked on the rough skin of their heads.

Killed For Unproven Superstition

South Africa is home to most of the world's rhinos. It has been under heavy pressure from poachers who killed more than 1,200 of the country's rhinos in 2014 and are killing them at a high rate this year to meet rising demand for their horns in parts of Asia. Consumers believe rhino horn, which is ground into powder, works as medicine. There is no scientific evidence to back up that belief. The horn is made of keratin, a protein also found in human fingernails.

South Africa's national parks service rescued 16 rhino orphans in 2014. A dozen were put in the care of specialists and four were placed with female rhinos in government-run enclosures who act as mothers, Edna Molewa, minister of environmental affairs, said.

"The ultimate aim is for the orphans to be integrated back into a normally functioning breeding population," Molewa said.

Top Secret Orphanage

The mothers of most rhinos at the orphanage were shot, though one young rhino's mother died in a fight with another rhino. Poachers with machetes hacked another baby rhino more than two dozen times as it stayed near the body of its mother. It recovered at the orphanage.

The Rhino Orphanage was started in 2012. It says it has successfully raised and released nine rhinos back into the wild. Because of security concerns, the staff do not say how many rhinos are at the facility, which has no identifying signs at the entrance.

Poachers will "go for any little bit" of horn, even from a baby rhino whose horns are emerging, said Dex Kotze, who helps to oversee the orphanage. It is a non-profit group, so it does not try to make money. Instead, it must raise money through donations. He said it can cost roughly $32,000 a month to maintain the orphanage, and that several similar centers have started operating elsewhere in South Africa.

Tough Battle Against Poachers

On one occasion, poachers were on their way to the orphanage, but their gang had been infiltrated by an undercover agent from the South African government. The suspects were arrested, according to Benavides.

International interns who have assisted with the rhinos turned off phone and camera location settings and did not post photographs or video onto social media websites while at the orphanage. They did not want to give away its whereabouts, said Fortunate Phaka of the group called Youth 4 African Wildlife.

Rewarding, But Stressful

"We try to keep it as secret as possible while at the same time raising awareness," Phaka said. "It's kind of hard trying to raise money for something people are not allowed to see."

Limited human contact with the rhinos also assists in their return to the wild, which happens when they are 2 or 3 years old. This is the age at which they would usually become independent.

Benavides said it was rewarding to rehabilitate rhino orphans, but also stressful because, "you don't know what's going to happen to them when you finally let them go."

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1
Anchor 2: Central Idea

Which of the following BEST explains the central idea of the article?

A

An off-the-grid nonprofit, The Rhino Orphanage, rescues and mothers baby rhinos orphaned by aggressive poachers who kill the animals for their valuable horns.

B

The Rhino Orphanage has to take extreme measure to protect its rhinos from poachers by keeping its exact location undisclosed and asking visitors to limit photos.

C

South Africa is home to most of the world's rhinos, but this population has been aggressively attacked to meet the rising demand for their horns.

D

The ultimate goal of The Rhino Orphanage is to raise baby rhinos to be released back into the wild, despite knowing that the will not be protected from poachers when they leave.

2
Anchor 2: Central Idea

Which of the following sentences is LEAST important to include in a summary of the article?

A

South Africa's national parks services successfully rescued 16 rhino orphans in 2014.

B

The Rhino Orphanage is one small center that cannot solve the devastation to the rhino population caused by poachers.

C

While the high security has its benefits, the lack of publicity is not a good decision for fundraising.

D

The orphanages release the baby rhinos into the wild when they turn 2 or 3 years old, the age they would usually become independent.

3
Anchor 5: Text Structure

Read the first paragraph in the section "Killed For Unproven Superstition."

South Africa is home to most of the world's rhinos. It has been under heavy pressure from poachers who killed more than 1,200 of the country's rhinos in 2014 and are killing them at a high rate this year to meet rising demand for their horns in parts of Asia. Consumers believe rhino horn, which is ground into powder, works as medicine. There is no scientific evidence to back up that belief. The horn is made of keratin, a protein also found in human fingernails.

How is this paragraph used to explain the significance of The Rhino Orphanage?

A

by providing background information that highlights the scope of the poaching problem

B

by summarizing the importance of the rhino population in South Africa that emphasizes the need for conservation

C

by comparing the perspectives of the animal conservationists and the poachers to show both sides

D

by predicting the number of rhinos killed this year by poachers to show the problem is growing

4
Anchor 5: Text Structure

Read the first paragraph in section "Tough Battle Against Poachers."

On one occasion, poachers were on their way to the orphanage, but their gang had been infiltrated by an undercover agent from the South African government. The suspects were arrested, according to Benavides.

Which of the following BEST describes the organization of the above paragraph?

A

a summary of the dangers of poachers

B

an anecdote conveying the constant threat of poachers

C

an unchanging problem and a permanent solution

D

a comparison between poachers and law enforcement

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