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Stories / Encountering Rhinos

It is a great responsibility and a great privilege  to tell the stories of  these magnificent creatures who are maimed and voiceless, and who’s suffering is largely unseen.


On the 10 May 2017 on a nature reserve in KZN, two white rhino cows were shot and killed for their horns by poachers. A third rhino cow (‘Regina’) was shot in the neck and wounded but ran into thick bush and her horn was not poached. She was treated by Dr Ryan van Deventer on the 15th May 2017 and a follow up treatment was scheduled for a few days later, but the team searched in vain and could not find her. She was found dead on 23rd May 2017 where she had escaped to hide in thick bush. 

The artist, Monique van Deventer, accompanied her husband along with members of the SAP to conduct the post-mortem on 24th May 2017, in the hopes of finding the bullet that killed her, for forensic evidence.  During this post-mortem an almost full-term foetus was found inside of her, and the bullet had shot it’s small foot off as it travelled through the mother’s body.

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On Saturday the 17th May 2014, poachers drove into a private game reserve in KZN pretending to be wedding guests. They darted 3 white rhino cows with veterinary drugs and cut off their horns, leaving them for dead. Dr Ryan van Deventer was called to the gruesome scene to find two of the rhino already dead, but the third one still alive. He was able to administer the reversal drug and save her in time.


The rangers renamed her ‘Mpilo’ meaning life. Mpilo had an open facial would where her horn was savagely cut and underwent regular treatments over the next two years, where a fibreglass and then an aluminium ‘cap’ was drilled into the bones of her face to cover the wound and allow it to heal underneath. Thankfully her horn eventually grew back and she and the other rhino on the reserve are regularly dehorned and are monitored 24/7 by a Rhino anti-poaching unit. In 2018, Mpilo had a calf.


With all three females killed by the poachers, there was only one male rhino, (‘Hercules’), left on the reserve.  He stayed alone for a year, until money was raised to have him relocated to a large private game reserve in Northern KZN where it was hoped that he would be happier with other rhino.


Unfortunately, he was unable to adapt to a new environment, and Dr van Deventer was called to treat him two months later on 27th October, as he was ‘skin and bone’ and not eating. Hercules died three days later on the 30th October 2018. A very sad ending to this rhino family story indeed!

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Thembi is a white rhinoceros cow, on a Private Reserve in Northern KZN. Her horn was poached in 2010 and she was left largely untreated with a gaping facial wound, due to the reserve being under land claim and a lack of management and funds to treat her.


Thembi has had basic and sporadic veterinary treatment over the years, but in 2017 Dr Ryan van Deventer organised funding through Project Rhino and Saving the Survivors to treat her regularly. Her treatment is an ongoing process due to the extent of her wounds.


Unfortunately, Thembi has not been treated this year due to difficulties with Covid-19 and a resulting lack of funding. Despite her extensive injuries, the resilience of this rhino is astounding. She has survived with an open facial wound to her face for 10 years, and has had 3 calves since the poaching incident.

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