In January 2018 Arrie van Deventer, founder of The Rhino Orphanage, got a call to say there was another orphan baby rhino on the way to the centre in Limpopo. “So far we have had about 50 rhino through our orphanage and 99% of them have been orphan babies mostly from poaching,” says Arrie.
Mofalodi, meaning survivor, had been found in Pilanesberg National Park and she had already been alone for 4 days. “She really is a survivor,” says Arrie, “as the longer they are alone in the wild, the more health issues we have. They get hungry and begin to eat sand and mud, and become terribly dehydrated and end up with stomach issues.”
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It was only realised a while after the adult carcass was found that there was a baby. It took 4 days of searching on the ground and in the air to find the orphaned rhino. “When the helicopter came in to capture her she was running towards her mother and there were lions feeding. Luckily we managed to turn her at the last minute and capture her,” says Perry Dell who works for the Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust. The newest Bat Hawk light aircraft that is used for patrolling and anti-poaching has also been name Mofalodi.
Mofalodi, shortened to Lolli, is doing well and she and another little orphan called Charlotte (Lotti) have become firm friends. They love to go for walks, play and wallow – all the things a baby rhino should be doing in the wild. “Our youngest surviving rhino orphan was only a day old when it arrived here,” says Arrie. “We have an incredible team of people who look after the orphans 24 hours a day. As the rhino grow they have less and less contact with humans until eventually we can rehabilitate them into the wild at about 4 to 5 years old. It’s a long process.”
Arrie explained how the poachers often hack the babies with pangas and axes. “The babies try to push the poachers away from their mothers and get in the way so they are attacked. We had one baby rhino that came to us with 21 wounds in its head and face. But it pulled through and is now back in the wild.”
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Arrie says the orphanage began by accident. In 2012 he was asked to help a neighbouring farm find a poached rhino and in doing so they found the baby. When he realised that there were no real facilities to take rhino orphans he started his own with the help of rhino expert Karen Trendler who advised on the design of the place as well as rhino care.
The Rhino Orphanage location is kept as secret as possible in order to protect the orphans, but you can follow their progress on their Facebook page and being a Section 21 company, they always need help.
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Words Sue Adams
Photography The Rhino Orphanage
A journalist by trade, features writer on occasion and now the digital editor of SA Country Life. The first chance she gets, Leigh will tell you about a podcast she was recently listening to and how you simply have to make the move from radio. In a previous life, she once taught English on Jeju which left her with an insatiable craving for kimchi.