Rescue, Rehabilitate, Release – the story of a rhino orphaned by poaching
08 July 2019
Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) has for the first time, successfully released two rhino orphaned from poaching. As the gates opened, and the tentative pair crossed the threshold into the reserve, the magnitude of the moment became apparent. Tears and laughter were shared as Gertjie and Matimba were given a second chance at life, and procreation.
"To see them released into the wild now, after all they've been through... it's an incredible feeling. It makes all our work worthwhile," says Janelle Genis, vet's assistant who rescued Gertjie.
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Gertjie's journey from trauma to triumph
There is very little scientific precedent when it comes to what age or stage is best to release rhino back into the wild, but in preparation of the release, the already minimal human contact and interaction is almost completely stopped.
“When we are thinking of releasing our rhino, we usually discuss it with the veterinarian before a final decision is made. Most hand-reared rhino calves are ready for release from the age of five years. This is just to ensure that they are big enough to fend for themselves in the wild. Other than that we also keep an eye on their behaviours to see if they will be able to survive in the wild. We have seen Gertjie and Matimba a few times since their release, and as far as we can tell they’re doing very well and are sticking together,” said HESC General Manager Karen Swiegers.
“I’m so happy today, I’m really quite emotional. To see these two orphaned rhinos, which we hand raised, now free in the wild- it’s overwhelming!”
Lente Roode, HESC founder & MD
“The first few nights are spent with a curator by their side trying to reassure the traumatised animal and building a bond with the calf in order to get closer to it. After the bond is formed, a sheep is introduced to act as a surrogate mother. The sheep can stay with the rhino 24/7 without changing shifts or leaving. This helps to calm the orphan down. Most calves arrive quite dehydrated and require drips, vitamins and antibiotics. Some calves arrive with wounds from predators or from being shot, which will then require weekly veterinary care,” explained Swiegers.
The bond between Gertjie and Matimba was instantaneous and they are now like brothers.
“We would never have considered releasing these sub-adults alone. You never see the one without the other. Matimba was the more protective and aggressive of the two, whilst Gertjie had a good calming effect on Matimba”
Linri Janse van Rensburg, HESC head curator
"They're being destroyed by us, the human race. The rhino is an iconic species, and we have to do everything in our power to save them."
Janelle Genis, ProVet Wildlife Services
“You can never release an animal and say it’s going to be safe for the rest of its life, but that animal needs to be out in the wild. Our main goal is always to release. Rehabilitation is only half the job. We choose a property that has a good anti-poaching unit and state-of-the-art fencing, to keep them as safe as possible," said Corlet Grobler, HESC anti-poaching unit K9 trainer.
Why you should care about rhino conservation
of the world's rhino are in South Africa
is wildlife tourism's contributed to GDP, more than agriculture, forestry and fishing
rhino were killed in 2018, making it the first year in five that less than 1,000 were killed
“Rhino is an iconic species. Having the big 5 brings tourists to our country and boosts GDP. How can we tell future generations that we once had the ‘Big 5’, but we now only have the ‘Big 4?’” says an incredulous Grobler when asked whether she thinks all the time and money spent is worth it.And with tourism contributing R130 billion to the country’s GDP in 2017 – more than that of agriculture, forestry and fishing – protecting our wildlife economy is more than a matter of preserving our heritage, it’s an economic imperative.
Investec's viewpoint and contribution
“The chance to see rhino orphans being released is truly special. These are conservation moments that need to be captured, documented and treasured for their significance to the future of humanity”
Tanya dos Santos, Group Sustainability head