Rhino Spotlight

Thandi: Life of a Survivor

Everyday there is another poaching, most of the time another life taken. But for the “lucky” few, they survive.

For those rhinos, it’s not just a matter of providing a bit of veterinary care, then sending them on their way. The physical and emotional toll it takes lasts the rest of their days.

A couple of months ago we were in Kariega Reserve and had the privilege of meeting one of my heroes, Thandi, the rhino who cheated what seemed certain death.

On our second siting of Thandi and “baby” Thembi, it was immediately obvious from a distance that something was different. As she moved through the grass, happily grazing with Thembi not far behind, the sun shone off her face showing a glint of red. Moving in closer, there was no doubt it was bloody and raw.


Thandi, wound re-opened. photo: Fight for Rhinos

After numerous skin grafts, being anesthetized and treated, this is as good as it will ever be for her. Even the best of veterinary care and creative “bandaging”, cannot hold up to rhino life. There is a bull in the area who does what comes natural, the equivalent of rhino flirting. Through pushes and bumps, the thin skin over her nasal area isn’t as sufficient as the protection of her own horn.

She doesn’t seem to be in pain, as she happily munches her grass or gives Thembi “love taps”. In fact, the blood was the only sign something was wrong.

But as Thembi grows older, Thandi will mate again, hopefully making Thembi a big sister. Rhino mating is not a gentle process!

The Kariega staff and veterinary team keep a close eye on their star. She is in good hands, but seeing the occasional re-opening of the wound is a constant reminder of her struggle, of the long road we are all traveling in the poaching war to prevent other rhinos from the same horrible fate.

Thandi Thembi Kariega

Thandi and Thembi grazing and taking in the sun. photo: Fight for Rhinos



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In Love With Jello

It is with a heavy heart we announce the passing of Jello. He was humanely euthanized on Monday after a decline in health relating to his seizures and neurological issues.                                                                                                           He will always hold a special place in our hearts, as the first black rhino we were privileged to meet.
Our thoughts and sympathies are with his caretakers at the Potter Park Zoo. He will be missed.
RIP big guy.

Fight for Rhinos

They say you never forget your first love. Mine’s about 5 feet tall, has a bit of an attitude and a very dirty nose. The moment was magical; I called to him, he ignored me, looked up briefly, then turned away obviously unimpressed. But for me, I was in love.

Jello Jello

Jello’s the first rhino I’ve officially met. Originally from Miami, he lives at the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing MI. The 9-year-old black rhino is  handsome (as rhinos go), and laid back. He is well cared for, and knows it. With an attitude remarkably similar to a cat, he comes to you in his own sweet time, but loves the attention once he gets it.

DSCF0545-001 Zoo policy wouldn’t allow a “behind the scenes” photo, so to commemorate my moment-rhino dirt from rubbing Jello’s “sweet” spot!

Watching his giant prehensile lip grab for treats, feeling his smooth wrinkled face, and…

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Raining Rhino Horn

We came rushing in; each person carried something pivotal to the procedure, everyone having a part to play in the de-horning of this massive, majestic rhino. She lay in the brush (as rarely do they collapse into more convenient, open areas), immobile, helpless. The sedative taking effect.

Before the vet could even start directing the all too familiar procedure, the chainsaw roared to life, immediately going to work to clear away the thorny bushes and branches around her. Time was crucial, as leaving an animal under anesthetic or in the same position for too long, could be damaging.


There is no shortage of help in keeping this rhino safe and healthy during the procedure.

Once space was made, a team of no less than 6 men rolled her into place. The chainsaw still in hand, the work began. As the horn was sawed away, a little at a time, the minutes became more surreal. What an amazing moment-to be so close and feel her breath under her warm enormous body, against me.

Horn shortened, she was again re-positioned, keeping pressure off her fragile legs, so as not to crush them under her massive weight. Dr. Rogers began carefully sanding down the edges, rounding off the stub.

A blanket is used to cover her eyes to protect them from debris and to help keep her calm.

A blanket is used to cover her eyes to protect them from debris and to help keep her calm.

Shielding our eyes, particles and dust from the horn flew in all directions. It rained down into my hair, on my face, across my arms and chest. Picking a piece up, no different from my own fingernail shavings; I marveled at the fact that THIS is why she’s in danger. THIS is why they are all under peril.

Someone jokingly remarked “you have gold in your hair”. The reality of it weighed heavy in the air.

Injecting the reversal drug after a successful procedure.

Injecting the reversal drug after a successful procedure.

One of the team was in tears, others just silently watched the doctor meticulously work.

As he finished the process, one of the team took blood to test, another applied the antiseptic to the minor scrapes and cuts she sustained from falling from the darting process. Finally she was given the anesthetic reversal, the blanket pulled from her eyes and we moved out.

None the worse for wear, she stood, hesitated for the briefest of moments and ambled off back into the bush, her companion waiting not far off.


In our recent visit, we had the privilege of working with Dr. Peter Rogers and the team on de-horning one of the former victims of poaching at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre.

In August of 2013, Dingle Dell and Lion’s Den, two rhino cows were poached. Fortunately with the help of Dr. Rogers, Dr. Johan Marais and their stellar veterinary team, they survived. The two have endured countless procedures since then, and recently underwent another dehorning to make them less of a target to would-be poachers.

De-horning is now a common procedure for a great deal of the remaining rhinos in South Africa. Yet no matter how much the “norm” it has become, there are moments when it hits you-the irony that we must rob a creature of it’s parts in order to save it from others who seek to do the same just to save it’s life.


We thank Dr. Rogers, his team and the staff at HESC for their professionalism, dedication and hospitality. It was an honor to fund the cows’procedures as they continue their rehabilitation at the centre.





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The Bonding of Gertje and Matimba

Sometimes life throws two souls together at the right place and time, forming a lasting friendship, an unexplainable bond. That’s the story of Gertje and Matimba, the two orphan rhinos at Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre.

These boys have both endured the trauma of losing their mothers to poachers in the beginning of their young lives. Gertje (also known as Little G) made headlines, as he pulled heartstrings. Found crying inconsolably next to his dead mother, he was brought to HESC over a year ago, bonding with his caretakers, as he was too heartbroken and afraid to even sleep alone.

Gertje was paired up with a sheep to provide companionship. With his own webcam, viewers could tune in to watch the two of them in his boma, as he slept, or more often; restlessly paced about.

gertje little

Little G, Gertje, being consoled by his caretaker soon after his arrival. photo: HESC

About 9 months ago little Matimba was rescued; he and his dead mother were found covered in mud, indicating at his young age of less than a month old, he had likely just enjoyed his first mudbath minutes before the poaching.

matimba little

Matimba, at just weeks old, when he first arrived in the centre. photo: HESC

In December of 2014, the two were introduced. Initially Gertje was less than enthusiastic; unsure what to make of this miniature replica of himself. It took him a couple of hours to become assured that the little bundle of energy wasn’t a threat, and as caretaker, Anri said only a couple of days “to completely accept each other”.

According to Anri, as the boys grow older, their natural instincts will kick in and they will grow less affectionate towards each other. Adult bulls are generally solitary and associate only with females in oestrus.

Regardless of what the future holds, their bond at the moment is deep and vital to their growth. In a perfect world, rhinos remain with their moms for 2-3 years before venturing out on their own. Their relationship is unusual and may not replace the nurture of “mom”, but it brings a bit of solace in an otherwise horrible circumstance.

gert and matimba on flattened termite mound

Gertje and Matimba enjoying their newly flattened termite mound. photo: HESC

*Fight for Rhinos is looking forward to our first visit to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in September. If you have any questions for the rhino caretakers on Gertje or Matimba, please email us at fightforrhinos@gmail.com. We’ll gladly find out.


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Happy Fathers Day Andalas

Andalas is not just any rhino dad. What makes him special is the fact he was the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in 112 years! At 6 years of age he was moved to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in south Sumatra.


Andalas photo: Asian Rhino Project

His transition from zoo to jungle presented some challenges. He didn’t know how to wallow in mud holes, wasn’t used to browsing for his own food, or having such a variety of it. It took time for his caregivers to teach him these vital skills.

He was also initially scared of other rhinos and ran when they came near. Not quite a lady’s man, he was overly aggressive to the females. After guidance and socialization skills from the staff, he was gradually introduced to two female rhinos.

He chose Ratu. In 2012 he and Ratu became parents to Andatu, the first rhino ever born at SRS.

It is hopeful he will be able to duplicate that success with other females.

Baby Andatu in 2012

Baby Andatu in 2012. photo:International Rhino Foundation



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By now most of you have likely seen the heartbreaking photos of Hope, the poached rhino who has by some miracle survived despite destruction of half her face. The pain and fear she is enduring, the long precarious road to recovery, the trauma that marks her in ways we can’t even fathom – this is not even the worst of it.  The worst is knowing she will not be the last.


Thandi, Lions Den, Dingle Dell…they have all come before her. They have all endured being darted/sedated, treated, fashioned with metal plates, screws, sutures, only to have it done again, and again, and again. Yet, no rhino has literally survived having half her face brutally chopped away.

This is the extreme of “saving” an animal. But it’s the norm for poaching.

Hard to look at, bloody and heartbreaking. But she doesn’t have the luxury of looking away. Neither do the veterinarians who look after her and listen to her cries day after day.

Take the pain and fury you feel for her and use it. Be strong enough to look, be bold enough to share:

*Poaching of rhinos is a global crisis.
*It kills rangers AND poachers
* It creates tension in communities,
*It destroys jobs by wiping out the ecotourism industry
*It adds to funding of terrorist operations
*It’s wiping out the last of a 50 million year old animal.

hope closeup

Look past the wound, look in her eye. Feel her pain and fear, let it propel you forward in the fight.

For more on the survivors see: Poaching Survivor Lions Den,

Thandi’s Story,
Thandi: Plastic Surgery After Poaching

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Harapan: artist extraordinaire

Harapan working on painting

Harapan working on his masterpiece

Harapan is the only Sumatran rhino in North America, and one of the few left in the world. Residing at the Cincinnati Zoo he is treated like royalty. He is showered with attention, love and all the ficus branches his heart desires.

One of his enrichment activities is painting. His pieces are sold to raise funds for his fellow rhinos, and their preservation. We’re proud to announce he’s painted a special piece for us at Fight for Rhinos. Don’t miss the chance to bid on this Harapan original on June 1st!

For a peek at the current art available: Rhino Art Auction

Proceeds raised will benefit Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage, the RPU program in Indonesia (Hary’s favorite), Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Vision Africa and Greater Reserves United.

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The Last Male on Earth

Imagine as a male being the last of your kind… you, 2 females, and a handful of other creatures surrounding you. This is the life of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino on the planet.

At the ripe age of 42, this old-timer is spending the last of his days at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He is a calm and relaxed old rhino, who enjoys the company of Mohammed and Esagon, his keepers who care for him around the clock. He responds to their voices and their presence is extremely calming to him.

Mohammed and Esagon

Mohammed and Esagon with Sudan


His days are spent alternating between his own enclosure and a larger area with both Fatu and Najin, the two females. When in their presence, he seems to prefer time with Najin.

Where most white rhinos are munching on grass, this is not his favorite; as he prefers Lucerne  (alfalfa), carrots, bananas and pellets. And why not? As the one and only of his kind, shouldn’t he get his favorites?

His relaxation and comfort only waver with  an unfamiliar person’s scent in his presence or when he is startled, like being approached from behind. Like many animals, the unfamiliar agitates him.

sudan 1

Sudan munching on one of his lesser favorites-grass


These are his days; fed, secure, cared for until the end. But the end is coming too soon. And the end of Sudan symbolizes the extinction of the Northern White Rhinos.

2014 Oct: Suni, the male at Ol Pejeta died at 34.

2014 Dec: Angalifu, the male at SanDiego died at 44.

With both Najin (18) and Fatu (29) getting on in age, they too are living in an hourglass, the sands of time the only enemy that rivals a poacher.

The heartbreak and loneliness we feel for him…his fate making him unique; does he feel it? Does he on some level know he is different?

As Ol Pejeta states : There’s no way to truly ascertain this. But we try to the extent that is possible to ensure that he is not alone. He is always in the company of his keepers or his sister rhinos, Najin and Fatu.

Ol Pejeta is caring for these precious rhinos, as well as being the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa. Fight for Rhinos supports their efforts . To help, please donate to Fight for Rhinos or to Ol Pejeta’s Running for Rhinos campaign.

For more on the Northern Whites: Watching the Sun Set on a Species,  What Happened to the Northern Whites?







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Tragedy to Triumph

Three years ago an evil atrocity fell upon the Kariega Game Reserve, as Thandi, Themba and a third rhino were mercilessly hacked by poacher’s axes.

thandi before

Today we bear witness to nothing short of miraculous.  As we celebrate the life of Thandi and her daughter, we also remember Themba and the tireless dedication of the staff surrounding them.

Thandi and Thembi 3-2

Now Kariega has announced, the little one has been most appropriately named- Thembi, meaning hope. Was there really any other choice?


For more on Thandi, try our new SEARCH function to see previous stories.


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The Most Highly Trafficked Animal on Earth

Today is World Pangolin Day. So what’s a Pangolin? Arguably the most endangered and least heard of animal on Earth.

World Pangolin Day 2014

Like rhinos and elephants, pangolins are severely endangered and desired by Asian communities. Not much is known about these mysterious creatures, as they are nocturnal and highly secretive. Making it even more difficult for scientists is the fact they are quickly disappearing.


*There are 8 species of Pangolins; 4 living in Asia, 4 living in Africa.

*They are also referred to as “scaly anteaters”

*Pangolins are mainly nocturnal and feed primarily on insects.

*They have no teeth, only sticky tongues, which they can extend up to 40 cm (16 in).

*Pangolins have poor eyesight and hearing, but a strong sense of smell.

*Pangolin scales are made of keratin and compromise 20% of the animal’s body weight. They are a natural defense for the little mammals, but also the reason they are poached.

Roxy and Maria again

Roxy the Cape Pangolin formed a special bond with Maria from the Rare and Endangered Species Trust

Pangolin Roxy and Maria of REST Rare & Endangered Species Trust

Roxy and Maria.

ROxy and baby

Roy carries her baby on her back.

Petition: Save endangered Pangolins from illegal poaching.

Petition: Help endangered Pangolins by featuring them in a Disney film

Baby pang standing by maria diekmann

Baby pangolin by: Maria Diekmann

Photos from REST, featured in Africa Geographic.









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