Rhino Orphan Trio Khula, Bhanoyi and Zimisele Return to the Wild

Friday 11 February 2022
Rhino Orphan Trio Khula, Bhanoyi and Zimisele Return to the Wild 

Helping Rhinos, in partnership with our project Zululand Rhino Orphanage (ZRO), recently released three rhino orphans back into the wild. 

Southern white rhinos, Khula, Bhanoyi and Zimisele (Zimi) had formed a close bond during their time at the orphanage and their release was one of both celebration and trepidation for everyone involved. This release now brings the total number of successfully rescued, rehabilitated and rewilded rhino orphans from Zululand Rhino Orphanage up to eight since 2019. 

This is an incredible achievement. Rewilding is a long process that involves a lot of hard work with many challenges along the way but for those involved with rhino conservation, it is all worthwhile. Rhinos belong in the wild

Thank you to all Helping Rhinos rhino orphan adopters for their support in making this rewilding possible.



Releasing rhino orphans back into the wild is a very important part of rhino conservation and integral to the future of the species. It is vital that rhinos are rewilded to ensure diverse reproductive success, and as a keystone species, rhinos are essential to a healthy ecosystem. 

The ZRO is the only dedicated rhino orphanage in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and plays a key role in the future of the area’s rhino population. Its primary goals are to rescue orphaned and injured rhino calves and to care for them until they are healthy and old enough to be returned to the wild where they belong. This is usually when the rhino orphans are around 3 to 5 years of age. 

At ZRO, the orphaned rhinos go through an extensive rehabilitation, from the moment they arrive as vulnerable and weak calves needing critical care to helping older calves learn how to become wild again. Rhino orphan carers have to teach them everything their mothers would have in order to prepare them for adulthood and for their eventual return to the wild.

Southern white rhino orphans Mpilo and Makhosi were successfully rewilded in 2020 and you can read their release story here.



When the older rhino orphans reach the stage where they are ready to be rewilded, there is a great deal of preparation and time involved to ensure that the release is successful. The rewilding programme aims to ensure that rhinos are released into healthy ecosystems and suitable areas for breeding where poaching levels are low and where there is effective 24-hour anti-poaching security. 

Prior to release, the rhino orphans are de-horned and receive a thorough veterinary examination as well as fitted with radio or foot collars so that they can be monitored once released. It is essential that the location of the newly released rhinos is never disclosed. 

Once released, the rhinos are monitored by trained rhino monitors who look for them every day using telemetry to locate them. White rhinos are grazers and these rhino orphans will initially receive supplementary food such as teff, lucerne or pellets to ensure that they stay in good condition while they get used to life in the wild. The monitoring in the first 12 months is quite intense as it is essential that they are given time to settle under the safe but distant watch of those who once cared for them. 


With the dedicated care, attention and love from the orphanage staff, and the support of Helping Rhinos’ wonderful adopters, these three young rhinos have grown from vulnerable, orphaned calves, to best buddies ready to take on the outside world. Here’s a reminder of their early stories:

Khula came to the orphanage in 2017 and was only three days old when he was found, malnourished and dehydrated after his mother was unable to produce milk due to a severe drought. 

He weighed only 57kg, significantly less than he should do at three days old. But it wasn’t long before he settled into his new surroundings and began to gain weight. He was named Khula, which means ‘to grow’ because he had a lot of growing to do at the time. And grow he certainly did: his final weight before release, aged 4 years and three months old, was 1,182kg. 


Bhanoyi was just four months old when he was rescued in December 2018 from a private game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal after his mum was brutally poached.

The brave little rhino calf had tried to defend his mother from the poachers and had been hacked with an axe four times in doing so. But luckily, he was found in a reasonably good condition and despite leading the vet team on a merry chase through the thickets which also involved a helicopter, Bhanoyi made it to the ZRO where he thrived and has come a long way in healing from his traumatic start. On release, aged 3 years and 4 months old, his final weight was a whopping 1030kg!


When Zimi arrived at the Zululand Rhino Orphanage in January 2020, she was just six months old and her mother had been killed by a rhino or elephant.

It was thought her mother was so severely injured before she died that she stopped producing the milk that Zimi so desperately needed. Though traumatised, malnourished and very wary, her dedicated carers encouraged her to drink milk again, thus providing the extra nutrition she needed for a healthy growing body. And grow she certainly did with much tenacity and confidence. On her release from the orphanage, Zimi was 2 years and 5 months old and her final weight was very close to the one tonne mark at 908kg.

The carers at the orphanage miss seeing these three faces every morning but are extremely excited for their new chapter. 


“These orphans would not have made it on their own and seeing them back where they belong as part of the wild population (and hopefully adding to it in the future) is so wonderful. Every rhino counts!” 

Simoné Marshall-Smith
Zululand Rhino Orphanage Manager


All three rewilded rhinos are doing well. Prior to release they were fitted with rhino pods and foot collars.

The rhino pods are a new monitoring technique used to track rhino. They look natural, they are safer than foot collars which have the potential to quickly become quite tight on young and growing animals and they are also more effective as they sit higher up on the animal allowing for better transmitting of signals. 

Rhino pods have a LORA and a VHF function. LORA means there is a constant live feed with GPS coordinates as well as functions such as alerting monitors when the pod doesn’t move for a few hours or when it leaves the reserve and VHF meaning very high frequency allowing tracking by telemetry set. 

The three rewilded rhinos are being closely monitored daily and appear to be successfully adapting to their new environment. The monitoring process also allows the veterinary team to gather crucial information on the process of reintroduction, to ensure the continued successful rewilding of rhino orphans in future.


It hasn’t been easy getting these three rhinos back to the wild, but it is certainly a momentous occasion that helps to remind us just how important it is to work to save every rhino we can and how vital the work of our wonderful partners on the ground is. And of course, we could not do this without all our wonderful supporters who have adopted an orphaned rhino calf (and if you’re yet to join our adoption programme, you can adopt any of our rewilded orphans here). 

However, getting a rhino orphan to the point of release involves a great deal of support, effort and funding. The trio may be now living in the wild, but they still need your support. An orphaned rhino needs help for life. Like the resources required when they were young, vulnerable calves, the cost of monitoring them in the wild is still borne by ZRO and Helping Rhinos. 

Through our Rhino Orphans adoption programme, Helping Rhinos provides funding to care for ALL the orphans from the moment they arrive at the orphanage to the monitoring and support they receive when out in the wild. 

Funds raised from our supporters’ adoptions are used for all the monitoring costs such as vehicle use and maintenance, telemetry sets, binoculars and cameras to assess the rewilded rhinos’ condition as well as any supplementary food they might require, ensuring they stay in good condition while they get used to a life in the wild.

The success of the ZRO’s rewilding programme is indeed something to celebrate. It just goes to show that with the right love, care and attention, these little rhino orphans have a great chance at a future back in the wild where they belong and where they can eventually contribute to future generations of rhino for many years to come.