This is the story of a couple, Yvonne and Rocco Gioia, and their love for an orphaned baby rhino.
“We came upon a dead rhino cow on our property and we knew she had a little calf. We started searching and wouldn’t give up. The search lasted almost three days. We called in the help of the air force and the police, and eventually, a private helicopter pilot.”
Finally, they found little Roccy hiding under a tree, in great distress after losing his mother.
“We called in the vet to dart him, and that day I said to Rocco, I’m not giving up on this animal. I will do anything in my power to get him to survive.”
Roccy had to undergo cataract surgery – the condition most probably developed from the shock and dehydration sustained during the poaching incident. The procedure was successful, and Yvonne and Rocco took it upon themselves to raise him and take care of him, and shortly thereafter he was joined by another orphan rhino named Clova.
Being in Roccy and Clova’s presence makes it even harder to understand how any person could harm such docile animals. Rocco believes it comes down to education.
“Everyone is up in arms about the rhino situation, but you have to remember that 90 percent of people in our country are not aware of it, let alone know what rhino look like. This includes the part of our population from which the poachers originate.”
He thinks that people have lost touch with nature, and that they need to learn about the damage the human race does to animals in order to turn the situation around.
“The awareness obviously has to spread through the countries that use rhino horn. But our point is – clean your own house first, and that starts with the education of South Africa’s children. It is based on the simple mathematical equation that the youth will be adults when rhino are on the brink of extinction.”
It is this conviction that led him and his wife to share Roccy’s story via a colour-in storybook. It was a joint idea, and Pick n Pay helped distribute 40 000 copies of Roccy the survivor to schools representing all the social strata in South Africa.
Needless to say, Rocco and Yvonne would be heartbroken if anything were to happen to these two orphans. Yvonne says they live in constant fear.
“All our plans are controlled by fear, but you can’t allow yourself to take out your day-to-day woes on the animals. The only thing you can do is to carry on and fight for the cause.”
Rocco and Yvonne’s awareness campaign is a glimmer of hope in the dire-looking future. The survival of all endangered animals relies on selfless souls like these, and thanks to their efforts, we may just be looking at a happy ending like the one in Roccy the survivor:
“For the first time since Roccy ran and ran to get away from the poachers, and for the first time since his mom was killed, he was happy. He had lots of friends in his life now, and he was going to have many, many adventures.”
*Taken from “The Survivor” in Lowveld