Hearts & Heroes

In the Frontline of Rhino Rehabilitation

Paving the way for Rehabilitation

A sanctuary to white rhinos for the last 23 years, the plight of these endangered animals is close to the heart of HESC (Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre).

How it all began

The story began with a young rhino called Ronnie, who arrived at The HESC in 1991. He came from a safari park in Longleat, Wales, and returned to Africa when the owner of the park, Roger Cawley, realized the dream he had had since Ronnie’s birth. Africa was Ronnie’s home, and to Africa, he must return.
Ronnie landed in Johannesburg on his first birthday, to be personally welcomed by Lente and Johann Roode. He adapted to his new life at HESC well, and it was not long before he was accustomed to his new family and the African sunshine. Ronnie grew to become a strapping and healthy young rhino and the team at HESC knew that he needed a mate. In October 1992, Lahliwe, a young rhino rejected by her mother from the KZN Imfolozi Game Reserve, joined Ronnie. It did not take long for the pair to become inseparable, and it was with much jubilation that the two rhinos were eventually released into a reserve. However, the jubilation was short-lived.

“Over the years, HESC became the home of many rhinos desperately in need of a home, with the smallest calf just over 12 hours old!”

After years of physical, emotional and financial investment, both Ronnie and Lahliwe were brutally shot with an AK47 rifle – Lahliwe nine times, and Ronnie three. Lahliwe’s small horn, hardly visible, was sawed off. She died instantly. Ronnie managed to walk back to HESC, and died days later in the small hut he had been nurtured in as a baby. The senseless killing of these two animals hit the team hard. What could possibly justify the massacre of such innocent victims, both of which had a long natural life stretching ahead of them? Over the years, HESC became the home of many rhinos desperately in need of a home, with the smallest calf just over 12 hours old!



Paving the way for Rehabilitation

Twenty-three years later and the hand of fate once again saw HESC in the front-line of rhino rehabilitation. In 2013, the anti-poaching unit on an unnamed reserve found three rhinos darted by poachers and dehorned. Miraculously, although the bull was killed, the remaining two cows survived. Their horns had been neatly cut-off with a chainsaw, but this left the animals’ sinus canals open and exposed, posing a massive threat to their well-being. The two rhinos were moved to HESC for the long and painful road that lay ahead of them.

With the collaboration of: Dr Peter Rogers, Dr Gerhard Steenkamp (well-known veterinarian dentist and senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria), Dr Johan Marais (equine and wildlife surgeon and lecturer at the University of Pretoria), and the assistance of the ‘Saving the Survivors’ team, the long path to the animals’ rehabilitation began, and almost a year later the prognosis is good. These two survivors, in all likelihood, will make it. In addition, the groundbreaking research and practice accumulated could pave the way for the rehabilitation of others that are lucky enough to survive such an ordeal.

The Anti-Poaching War Continues…

The story does not end here. In 2014, a three-month-old baby rhino, Gertjie was transported by Dr Rogers to HESC after being found next to his dead mother, she had been tragically and brutally poached for her horn on a private farm in the near vicinity. It was a devastating sight, as the tiny animal would not leave her side, and was crying inconsolably for her. The Centre’s latest addition is a two-week-old baby rhino, Matimba. The two-orphaned rhinos are settled and thriving. They have become the voice of many rhinos drawing much-needed attention to the anti-poaching war.


You can make a Difference!
A R4 million campaign has been launched to fund the upgrade of security systems. If you would like to get involved or find out more about HESC’s initiatives to raise money visit https://help.hesc.co.za/ or www.hesc.co.za for more information.