South Africans volunteer to keep rhino orphanage going during lockdown

By Rescue and rehab, Volunteering No Comments
Channel News Asia | April 21, 2020

Read original story here. 

LIMPOPO, SOUTH AFRICA: Looking after an orphaned baby rhino is hard work: you feed them bottled milk at all hours, comfort them through constant fear and bereavement and endure long nights of screaming for the absent mother they witnessed being shot dead by poachers.

“The older calves take it really hard. They’ll call for their mothers for up to two weeks,” said Yolande van der Merwe, 38, who helped set up the world’s first such orphanage in South Africa’s Limpopo province almost a decade ago.

“They start bawling and that hits you right in the heart.”

Original photo as published by Channel News Asia. Orphaned rhinos Kolisi and Amelia, seven and four months respectively are seen amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a sanctuary for rhinos orphaned by poaching, in Mookgopong, Limpopo province, South Africa April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

To help manage the workload – “we can easily pull a 72 hour shift with two to three hours sleep”, van der Merwe said – the orphanage has depended on volunteers to fly in from abroad on three-month rotations at the site set among thick bush.

So when coronavirus panic struck and the latest three foreign volunteers’ visas were revoked, they were in a bind.

“I was quite worried that we were not going to cope,” she said, after Kolisi and Amelia, seven and four months, respectively, slurped noisily from 2-litre bottles of milk formula she was feeding them.

Manager and founder Arrie van Deventer, a 66-year-old retired teacher, got on the phone and started making frantic pleas on social media for South Africans to help out.

“We were swamped,” he said. He picked two volunteers from the several hundred offers. They are now staying put with the four permanent staff since last month’s nationwide lockdown imposed by President Cyril Ramphosa.

South African Deidre Rosenbahn, 37, had been a restaurant chef in Britain for 14 years and then travelled in Australia, but yearned to return home.

“I came back to the coronavirus. It was hard to find a job, so when this came up I put my hand up,” she said, as she fed their youngest new arrival, Mapimpi, from a bottle.

Poachers killed his mother when he was seven days old. He was dehydrated and withered – they found him trying to eat sand. Now he seems well-fed, relaxed and playful. At the age of five, the rhinos in the orphanage are released back into the wild.

“We have dozens of rhinos that come through here, and 95 per cent of them are because of the poaching pandemic,” Deventer said. The precise number, like the sanctuary’s location, are closely guarded secrets in order to protect them from poachers.

The game reserve adjacent to the orphanage has been attacked, unsuccessfully, twice.

Africa’s rhino population has been decimated over the decades to feed demand for rhino horn, which, despite being made of the same stuff as hair and fingernails, is prized in East Asia as a supposed medicine and as jewellery.




100,000 children stand against wildlife crime

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Education, Land conservation, Volunteering No Comments
Sifelani Tsiko, The Herald
February 18, 2020

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About 100,000 children in and around the national parks of Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe and Limpopo in Mozambique are being educated through the Peace and Changemaker Generation project to appreciate wildlife conservation efforts and to take a stand against wildlife crime.

The project also promotes girls’ rights in their communities as part of wider efforts to strengthen the two countries’ efforts to combat wildlife trafficking.

The project is a partnership between the World Children’s Prize Foundation and Peace Parks Foundation and is implemented in Zimbabwe by Shamwari Yemwanasikana, Gonarezhou Conservation Trust and Chilojo Club, in conjunction with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

This may be the first time that all children in a vast, but defined area are reached in order to contribute in the long-term to increased respect for children’s rights in their communities, and to the protection of wildlife and nature. The project is being carried out in communities in Zimbabwe and Mozambique living in or adjacent to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.

At least 2,000 children will be trained as Peace and Changemaker Generation ambassadors, together with 700 teachers and school leaders. Parents and local leaders would also be educated. These project ambassadors and teachers will educate all 100,000 children, in about 350 schools, about child rights, global goals for sustainable development, as well as the consequences of wildlife crime and climate change for their communities.


The national parks, Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe, and Limpopo in Mozambique, are rich in animal life and biodiversity that are continuously threatened by organised crime, poaching and trafficking of products such as rhino horn and elephant tusks; loss of natural habitat; drought; and climate change.

Both ecosystems and animals are endangered. There is not a single rhino left in the area. Many children live in poverty and face violations of their rights. Girls are especially vulnerable, but boys are also affected.

Paulo from Mozambique, now 16, was told to quit school at 13 to become a poacher: “It felt pointless carrying on at school, because there aren’t any jobs here anyway. But I’ve had enough,” he said.

“Poaching is not only illegal; it is also very dangerous. Poachers and rangers are getting killed in South Africa and Mozambique.”

Twelve-year-old Ronaldo from Mozambique lost his father when he was shot to death by park rangers in South Africa. “It’s wrong to kill animals, they are innocent. I wish my dad had done something different, but he did it because we are poor,” says Ronaldo.

Girls in the areas are especially vulnerable, and child marriage is common.

Blessing (15) from Zimbabwe was badly affected when her father gave up poaching after the number of park rangers increased. “It means I can’t go to school anymore, because we cannot afford to pay my school fees. Now I’m afraid that I will be married off,” says Blessing, having seen many of her peers, and younger girls, being forced to marry.

“Even though I had to leave school when my dad gave up poaching, I want to become a park ranger. Our wild animals are worth more alive than dead,” says Blessing.

Blessing, Paulo, Ronaldo and 100,000 other children in Zimbabwe and Mozambique are now taking part in the project, through which they will learn to stand up for their rights and make a change for a better future.

In addition, through the World Children’s Prize Programme, two million children in other countries will learn about the children in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, wildlife and protected areas, and how a new generation of children can make a change for the better.

Rhino 911: Local nonprofit working to save rhinos (Reno, Nevada)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Volunteering No Comments
Mary Jane Belleza, KOLO TV | January 22, 2020

See link for photo & 2-minute video.

RENO, NEV.: With rhinos critically endangered, those in our community are doing their part to help.

Fred Hees, along with a group of volunteers and bush pilot Nico Jacobs…Rhino 911 provides emergency helicopter rescues to wounded rhinos and providing life saving solutions for the animals.

“What we discovered was there was an element of terror, organized terror,” said Hees. “What I mean is Islamic terror that is using these animal parts as a funding source for the things that they do.”

Hees said he couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. “We found at the turn of century there were over a million rhinos alive,” explained Hees. “Now, we’re down approximately 14,000 to 15,000 by 2016. So, that raised a lot of alarm.”

Original photo as published by KOLO TV. (Source: Rhino 911)

As a South African living in Reno, he looked into the problem and made a call for action.

“As gunshots are heard either in the bush, on private land or national parks, people in the general public will call and say can somebody come and help?” said Hees. “Who do they call? they call Nico.”

International poaching and illegal trades using rhino horns have increased rhino deaths, the nonprofit hopes to raise awareness to decrease this high demand.

“There are so many of them that have been killed already for no reason and the rhino horn has no value,” added Hees. “It’s basically the same substance like the nails that is grown on your own hands.”

With donations received, they’ve been able to provide rhino transport, injury treatment and more, but Hees said the fight to save rhinos is just beginning.

“Everybody that’s associated with the organization right now is a volunteer, every penny that we actually raise goes towards helping the animals,” said Hees. “We fighting a losing battle. I think it’s going to take an enormous effort by the government by the public.”

For more information, click here.


How poachers turned wildlife protectors in Assam’s Manas National Park (India)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, News, Volunteering No Comments
Ratnadip Choudhury, NDTV | December 7, 2019

Read the original article and 4-minute video here

GUWAHATI:  Budheswar Bodo knows Assam’s Manas National Park like the back of his hand. A “wildlife protector” for the past 15 years, the 45-year-old begins each day with an evening drill and briefing to fellow volunteers deep inside the woods. He knows that if it’s not for those like him, the wildlife reserve will lose all its inhabitants to poachers who sneak in under the cover of the darkness.

But Budheswar Bodo wasn’t always this concerned about wildlife. Decades ago, when he was a notorious poacher, he had lost an arm in an encounter with a wild boar.

Manas was home to 22 of India’s most threatened species of mammals and 26 endangered birds before poachers killed almost all of its hundred-odd rhinos, most of its swamp deer and water buffaloes, and a large number of elephants and tigers in the 1980s. A lot of the forest’s prime timber was also illegally cut down at a time when the region was a hotbed of insurgency.

“We used to hunt animals for money. We killed many deer, elephants and rhinos, among other animals. We plundered Manas,” Budheswar Boro admitted to NDTV.

The Manas biosphere reserve, which houses the Manas Tiger Reserve and National Park in northwest Assam, was declared as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1985. However, the region was plunged into violence soon afterwards amid an armed struggle for a separate Bodoland state, and a substantial portion of its wildlife and pristine jungles was wiped out.

A revival initiative spanning 15 years has changed all that, with the region regaining the world heritage tag and the United Nations proposing to make Manas a hub for trans-boundary conservation efforts in the eastern Himalayas. And with the 2003 Bodoland accord in place, the same people who once poached and plundered the region are rebuilding what was once destroyed.

“After the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was formed in 2003, we encouraged local residents to participate in the conservation process. So they formed NGOs and became partners in the effort to conserve forests and protect animals,” BTC Deputy Chief Khampa Borgoyary told NDTV.

Today, the park is manned by hundreds of volunteers who were poachers at one time. The rhino count has gone up to around 40, there are at least 30 tigers and the old elephant corridors are abuzz with activity again. “I’m still haunted by memories of how I killed animals in the past. This is the only way I can atone for it,” said Joycharan Basumaty, another poacher-turned-volunteer.

One of the biggest challenges to the wildlife reserve comes from its shared border with the Royal Manas National Park in neighbouring Bhutan, claims Field Director Amal Chandra Sarmah. “There are poachers who enter our territory and kill animals before heading back. We caught two Bhutanese poachers recently, after which we intensified patrolling,” he said.

However, the cross-border geography of Manas is also turning out to be a huge advantage, with the United Nations now proposing to include it in the trans-boundary conservation landscape. And the rising tourist footfalls only go to show that the national park has come back to life.

Original photo by David Lloyd