Qhawe - The Lost Rhino

Tuesday 23 April 2024

A Short Life but a Lasting Impact:
Why We Must All Become Rhino Warriors

At the beginning of March 2024 a rhino calf was busy getting on with life, happily playing beside her mother in the bush in the province of KwaZulu Natal (KZN) in South Africa. Then poachers struck, brutally killing her mother and shooting her in the process leaving her bleeding and in pain beside her mother’s dead body. 

For many rhinos and their calves what follows is a slow agonising death, their carcasses are often not found for many days or even weeks, the poachers’ trail gone cold. Luckily, this female calf was found and taken to the Zululand Rhino Orphanage, the only orphanage supporting the vast area of the State owned HluHluwe-iMfolozi Park.  

The team at the orphanage were, as always, well prepared for the arrival of yet another rhino orphan. Over the last 2 years the orphanage had taken in more calves, most of them orphaned by the hands of poachers so the team knew what to expect. 



However nothing could have prepared them for the sight of a rhino orphan with significant gun wounds and they knew they were in for a hard road ahead. The calf was estimated to be just five and a half months old, a vulnerable and young age to be left alone in the world. What followed was an exhausting and emotional few days where the team, led by Orphanage manager Simoné Marshall-Smith and vet Trever, fought desperately to save her life. 

Despite being in a lot of pain, the calf fought valiantly to live at first and the team felt hopeful, believing they could save her. They did everything they could to ease her pain and surround her with love and compassion. However, three days after she arrived she took a turn for the worse and despite assistance from vet Trever her injuries proved too much for her and she passed away at four o’clock in the morning. Just days before she had been a healthy, happy rhino calf, living in the wild with her mother, until a poacher’s bullet and a false belief from thousands of miles away changed all that.  

Simoné was on night shift when she died and had observed the calf slowly give up her fight. It was a heart-breaking time for her, a seasoned and experienced rhino orphan carer. With emotions running high, Simoné shared with us: “I felt like I had failed her. We have all failed her. Humankind has failed rhinos.” 


The team named her Qhawe, meaning Warrior in the local language, and while she was only in their care for a few days, she made a lasting impact. We know some may find this an uncomfortable read, but we feel we owe it to Qhawe and all the other unheard victims of poaching to tell her story.? 

When the post mortem was carried out the team received a small measure of relief that they had done everything they possibly could for Qhawe. When she was shot by the poachers, the bullet entered her shoulder and exited through her rump. On its journey, it punctured her lung(s) and perforated her colon. The post-mortem showed that it was ultimately sepsis that killed her, a direct result of the poacher’s bullet.  

What made a positive difference to this tragic story was that Qhawe had spent her last days on earth surrounded by the incredible care and compassion of the team at the Zululand Rhino Orphanage. This made her one of the lucky few for many, many rhino orphans are not found and do not end up in the loving care of people like Simoné and her team.




Qhawe was rescued the day after South Africa released updated rhino poaching statistics for 2023, in which the province of KwaZulu-Natal (where Qhawe was found) was once again highlighted as the global hotspot for rhino poaching. Around 61% of the entire losses for the country happened in this area, predominantly in the State owned HluHluwe-iMfolozi Park.  

The numbers tell us that in 2023 499 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa, to supply a misguided demand in Asia. But how many more rhinos are indirect victims of poaching - the orphans that are never found, or the calves that never had the chance to exist because of the number of female rhinos killed.  


The situation looks bleak in KZN, but we are steadfast in our commitment to support our partners the Zululand Rhino Orphanage. As the only dedicated orphanage facility in the region, their continued existence is vital if orphans of poaching are to have any chance of survival.  

Expansion and greater resources are needed to ensure we can offer all rescued orphans both the urgent and long-term care they need, giving them the best chance of survival and recovery from the horrors suffered at the hands of poachers.  

We may not have been able to save Qhawe but you can help us ensure that when the next orphan comes in, our team can continue to provide the care they will so desperately need.  

In shock after seeing Qhawe suffer from such a painful and unnecessary death, Simoné felt the pain more than ever before and even questioned if it was all worth it. However, a steely determination to fight back remains with Simoné and her team – with a plea to us all: 

We have to keep being rhino warriors. We can all be a rhino warrior. It’s not over and we need to do better.

Be a Rhino Warrior. Take action now and donate to safeguard the future of our rhino orphans.