The imminent release of Zululand Rhino Orphanage’s Makhosi and Mpilo into the wild represents a key step in the protection of the southern white rhino.
Protecting a critically endangered species is no easy task, particularly when the threats faced by all rhino across Africa continue to grow. Rhino orphanages, such as the Zululand Rhino Orphanage, supported by Helping Rhinos, provide crucial support and care for orphaned rhino calves, before releasing them back into the wild.
The process of releasing orphaned rhinos back into the wild is an integral part of rhino conservation efforts, and involves a lot of thought, time and commitment, but it is imperative that every rhino is nurtured expertly and professionally when in care. Though the resources spent on each individual rhino may seem high, it remains imperative that every rhino is cared for appropriately when under the care of the orphanage.
EVERY RHINO COUNTs
"Every rhino counts", says Simon Jones, CEO of Helping Rhinos: "rhinos are in such a perilous position that action like this is needed… when driven to the edge of extinction, it is imperative that we do what we can to protect every individual rhino".
Though saving one rhino may seem a small step when compared with the larger population in the wild, that one rhino may go on to have offspring, which in turn helps keep a genetically wide population of rhino in the wild for the years to come. The alternative to releasing - keeping the rhinos in a secure sanctuary and away from human or non-human dangers - may seem attractive, but comes with a whole range of other problems.
"Rhinos were born into the wild, and belong in the wild", says Simon Jones, "rhinos in captivity behave differently to those in the wild - and have a much closer relationship with humans, which could endanger them in the wild… If you keep rhinos in a sanctuary, you also have to man-manage the breeding process… releasing into the wild creates a larger genetic pool and helps protect rhinos in a safe and natural environment".
"Rhinos are part of a delicate ecosystem", says Megan Lategan, an advisor to the Zululand Rhino Orphanage who has overseen the release of Makhosi and Mpilo. "The ecosystem needs the rhino, and every species has a purpose’… ‘While many may be terrified about the safety of rhino in the wild, in the bigger picture rhino are safer in the wild".
Megan says that releasing orphans back into the wild is "our mission… it’s what we do and it’s what this facility is here for: to rescue orphaned and injured rhino calves, to care for them until they are healthy and old enough to be returned back to where they belong".
A Painful Release for the Carers
Though their release to the wild is crucial to conservation efforts, the rhinos will be sorely missed by those who have raised them: "We are so sad to see them go because we are losing part of our family", says Nokwanda Mabuyakhulu, "but at the same time we are so happy for them because they will get another family in the wild".
"These are our two babies!" adds Jabu Nkosi. Nokwanda and Jabu are rhino orphan carers at the Zululand Rhino Orphanage.
It is crucially important that the rhinos are protected after their release: the location of any released rhino is never disclosed, and they are intensely monitored. Rhinos will only be released into pre-selected areas where poaching is low, and 24 hour security is set up to monitor not just for poachers, but other external threats and dangers. Processes such as these ensure the lives of rhinos released from the orphanage to the wild are long and trouble-free.
Funding from Helping Rhinos ensures that the calves in the facility receive remedial care, food and enrichment, as well as putting in place 24/7 security and anti-poaching measures. When the time comes for their release, Helping Rhinos helps provide the resources for radio collars, veterinary costs and transport. The reward is huge, seeing orphans such as Mpilo, who was found next to his dead mother’s body after she was poached, released into the wild to potentially go on to breed and create the next generation of rhinos. "We wouldn’t have got to where we are today without the hands-on and emotionally involved contribution of Helping Rhinos", says Megan Lategan.
"Why mess with nature?" says Simon Jones, "when dealing with a critically endangered species, you must try save every one… it’s not just one rhino, but part of the multigenerational impact of protecting rhinos".
Helping Rhinos is appealing for your support to get Makhosi and Mpilo back to the wild. Every gift you can give will help us fund the darting, dehorning and relocation costs. Your donation today will allow us to regularly monitor their progress and provide supplementary feed food when necessary to ensure they maintain a healthy body condition, and that they are safe and protected.
article written by Cameron Scheijde