By Sally Beck
At the offices of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya, a terrible hush descends when news filters through that poachers have slaughtered yet another rhino. Recently, a two-day-old calf was shot dead, found lifeless next to its dead mother unceremoniously shot with an AK47 rifle bought from Russia. The mother had had her horns hacked off with a machete. Two other adults, relatives of the murdered mother and baby, were slaughtered too, their bloodied faces also missing their precious horns.
The gloomy atmosphere that descended at conservation HQ, silenced the good-natured banter between work-mates for weeks. For Lewa's chief executive officer Mike Watson the losses were a bitter blow. "I feel a huge mixture of emotions. Frustration and sadness, but what's worse is when you try to explain to your six-year-old son what's happened and why it's happened, that's always quite emotional."
Meanwhile, in the Lewa rhino nursery, Yusuf, one of the rangers, is feeding aptly named Hope, a seven-month-old male white Rhino whose mother was slaughtered by poachers on a neighbouring conservancy called Ol Pejeta.
"I must give him milk every three hours," he said. "It is impossible not to get attached to these rhino. They do become like your children." Hope, has two playmates: three-month-old Kilifi, whose mother is blind, and 15-month-old Nicky who himself is blind.
Hope and Nicky are rolling in a waterhole, coating their wrinkled hides in sticky mud, while Kilifi rolls over to have his tummy tickled. He sighs with delight and squeaks, making a sound like a large mouse. It's awful to think that one day these delightful toddlers could be killed for their horns.
Lewa was a safe haven for the rhino, which had lost none between 1983 and 2009. Now 11 have been poached since the beginning of 2012. The 26-year rapprochement ended with the slaughter of three rhino in 2010 and 2011, and the aim to save and increase Lewa's herd of 62 white and 60 black rhino (which is listed by the World Wildlife Fund as critically endangered) was placed under threat. There are less than 5,000 left in the whole of Kenya and worldwide, one rhino is poached every 11 hours. More....