On Monday, Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage (FTTRO), built to rescue baby rhinos and other animals, after their mothers were killed for their horns by poachers, was attacked by a group of men who broke into the protected property. The rescue, located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, was subjected to an egregious attack on the staff including one woman who had been sexually assaulted and others savagely beaten. Then the attackers turned their cruelty to the baby rhinos – two were left dead after their horns were hacked off.
According to the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage Facebook page, authorities have been on the move apprehending those suspected of the heinous deeds.
“Yesterday SAPS successfully intercepted and arrested two suspected rhino poachers in Ermelo. One .458 rifle and ammunition recovered. Suspects brought back to KZN as they are believed to have been involved in recent Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage incident. In a separate arrest, in a joint operation, Ezemvelo and SAPS Rhino 7 successfully arrested on suspected rhino poacher and seized a .375 rifle and ammunition.”
Swift action by law enforcement !!! We will keep everyone informed as we receive updates.”
Eighteen-month-old Rhino babies Impi and Gugu had their horns chopped off. Gugu was killed instantly, but Impi survived, only to have to be euthanized the next morning because of his injuries. The rhinos had been due to have their horns surgically removed next week to protect them from the ivory traders. Founder of the orphanage Karen Trendler spoke about the attack on Facebook:
“…Your worst fear is that one of the rhinos … is going to be shot. That worst nightmare was realized, and then on top of that to have your team brutally assaulted is just beyond comprehension.”
Allison Thomson, founder of Outraged South African Citizens Against Rhino Poaching, stated she felt utterly heartbroken and “totally gutted.”
“It is increasingly difficult for those who care and have been trying to fight the war against rhino poaching, to carry on under these circumstances. Conservationists, private rhino owners, rangers, anti-poaching staff and vets have all revealed the heartbreak and tears behind their struggle.”
Tragically the calves had all suffered anxiety and undue separation when they were very young after losing their mothers. In the wild, calves stay very close to their moms for anywhere between two and four years. The orphanage, managed by Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization began in 2001 with two baby rhinos named Thabo and Ntombi. The two were eventually released into the protected reserve and continue to live in natural habitats. Even their lives have been threatened, and keeping the animals safe, has been a vigilant job. In one poaching attempt, Thabo was shot in the leg. His recovery period took more than a year before he could be released.
The team wants to let animal advocates and supporters of the orphanage to know they are not giving up nor giving in to these terrible attacks. The latest Facebook post on the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage page reflects their hope:
“Good morning to all our followers. It has been a relatively calm evening at the orphanage. The team is still understandably under a lot of stress, but are showing amazing resilience and unwavering dedication to seamlessly care for the remaining orphans. All the babies are doing well, including chubby little Charlie and our ever vigilant, Duma. We are humbled by all the messages of support as well as donations that have been streaming in from all over the world. Again, if we are slow to respond, please be patient… we will get there.
Our management team and security consultants have been working around the clock to discuss extra security measures and support authorities with the ongoing investigation. In the coming weeks we will keep all our followers informed of the situation.”
A fundraiser to help the baby rhinos can be found here.
Photos courtesy of Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage Facebook page.
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Check out the video of baby rhinos playing with their canine friend: