By Melanie Gosling
Cape Town - As the number of rhinos that fall to poachers’ guns and machetes rises every month, the number of orphaned rhino calves increases.
Many of the youngsters, particularly those that are still very young and still suckling, do not survive. But some are found in time, and a Mpumalanga woman is raising them. To date she had 10 – and the costs of keeping these babies alive is taking its toll. But Petronel Nieuwoudt, founder of the rehabilitation centre Care for Wild Africa, says she has no choice but to keep on taking in the little creatures.
“When I get them, they are so deeply hurt. I feel their sorrow. They’re babies who need someone who will help.”
Sometimes the baby rhinos are injured and need treatment. Sometimes they have developed stomach ulcers from the stress of seeing their mothers butchered and then being left to fend for themselves.
“It’s not just a case of ‘oh, another baby rhino, how cute’. It is hard work to get them right because they don’t trust humans. The last humans they saw killed their mothers. They get stressed, just like horses, and if they have developed ulcers, that’s another problem to deal with.”
The expense of taking on the baby rhinos is huge. A 140kg baby rhino will drink 14 litres of milk a day, as well as a cup of glucose and other fluids. A cup of glucose costs R300.
“Then there are the lucerne costs and the heaters and the staff to feed her. People sitting in the cities don’t really understand the effort that goes into saving these orphans. There is the cost of fuel to pick up the feed, and to pick up the baby from where it was orphaned. There are vet fees to dart the babies before they are transported, and the hours and hours of special fluids to help with their dehydration. Sometimes they have injuries and these need antibiotics.”
Tana, an orphaned rhino from a reserve in Limpopo, cost R15 000 in the first month she was at the centre. The costs come down in subsequent months to R5 000 to R7 000 a month. Once the animals are weaned the cost of keeping an orphaned rhino is around R3 000.
“Thankfully they are all thriving. I suppose it is a mixture of an art and a science. I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I think the secret of my success is passion. I love them so much. I just don’t give up.”
Financial help on the horizon has come in the form of a Rock4-Rhinos concert at the SuperSport Park in Centurion on June 28. The Straits, with key members from Dire Straits, will play one concert to raise money for feeding and caring for the orphaned rhino.
The Straits, who are now touring the US, will be supported by local acts including Freshlyground, Arno Carstens, ISO, Bedouin Sea and Matthew Mole.