In Odisha, rapid urbanization, mining and industry, expansion of linear infrastructure and fragmented habitats have sent Elephants into a growing conflict with humans over the last several years.
A total of 282 Elephants died in Odisha from 2018 through August 31, 2021, the state’s forest minister Bikaram Keshari Arukha said. The highest number of Elephant deaths (93) took place in 2018-19, followed by 82 in 2019-20, 77 in 2020-21 and 30 till end of August this year.
As many as 43 of the Elephants were electrocuted, seven were killed by poachers, 13 were hit by trains, four in road accidents and 59 died in other accidents. The rest succumbed to infections — 18 died of anthrax, six of herpes and 77 of other diseases. As many as 34 Elephants died of natural causes and 21 due to unknown reasons.
The eastern state had 1,976 Elephants in 2017, according to the last census. This was an improvement from 1954 in 2015 and 1930 in 2012, the minister noted at the state assembly.
“Odisha’s forest and environment department has selected 14 traditional Elephant corridors in the state for smooth movement of the Elephants,” he added.
The Minister also informed that the state lost 17 Leopards in this period which included two Royal Bengal Tigers, killed in electrocution and disease separately in 2018-19. Five Leopards were killed in poaching. The Special Task Force of Odisha Police, State Forest department as well as the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau have seized at least 29 Leopard skins since April 2020. Nine Leopard skins were seized by Forest officials in Kalahandi alone in July this year.
The number of Leopards in the state, however, more than doubled to 760 in that period, according to the NTCA report released December 21, 2020.
‘Leopards occupy areas vacated by Tigers and this is one of the main reasons behind the increasing Leopard population in the state, according to LA Singh, former wildlife research officer of Similipal Tiger Reserve.
Leopards also breed more often than Tigers and can survive in almost any type of habitat and need less space, he added. Tigers, the biggest of the big cats, thrive in larger forest expanses, said the expert.
To curb poaching of wild animals, the State Government has formed anti-poaching and anti-smuggling squads in the sensitive areas.
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Once targeted for their ivory tusks, Asia’s already endangered elephants are facing a new threat to their survival: Poachers in Myanmar and elsewhere are selling their hides to be turned into purported cures for stomach ulcers and cancer as well as jewellery and prayer beads for sale in China. Elsewhere, the skins are being turned into luxury leather goods from golf bags and designer boots to wallets, belts and even motorcycle seats.
Trafficking in Asian elephant hides has grown over the past four years from small-scale sales of skins to a wholesale commercial trade. In Asia, this includes sales on open, online forums as well as by some Chinese pharmaceutical companies, according to the U.K.-based wildlife conservation group Elephant Family, which believes most of the Chinese products come from illegally traded Asian elephant hides. Legally licensed trade in hides from four African countries is strictly controlled and regulated.
Conservationists fear that elephant skin may even begin to replace ivory as a motive for poaching, and that any legal trade provides a loop-hole for illegal trade. For these reasons, they have urged countries to completely ban its importation.
Asian Elephants live across a vast range of 13 countries, from India to Indonesia, yet their global population of 30,000-50,000 is barely 10% of their African cousins. While all Elephants face the threats of habitat loss, conflict with people, and poaching for ivory, Asian Elephants are also threatened by illicit live trade for the entertainment industry and, most recently, by poaching for the illegal trade in their skins.
The first conservation organisation to investigate the Elephant skin trade chain, their research revealed that this trade continues to grow both in scope and in volume. Traders are diversifying and experimenting.
Initially, powdered Elephant skin was sold as a traditional medicine ingredient. Then a new trend emerged where dried Elephant skin was carved and polished into prayer beads and other Chinese collectibles, with traders extolling the qualities of the blood-red hue in the translucent subcutaneous layers.
There is now an increase in the online advertising of powdered Elephant skin for sale to, apparently exclusively, buyers in mainland China. Videos posted on marketing sites show images of backyards in Myanmar and Laos being used by traders to carve up chunks of Elephant skin, remove coarse hair with blow-torches and dry it in ovens before grinding it into a fine powder. It is then packaged for sale as Traditional Chinese Medicine for stomach ailments. Field investigations revealed that while some consumers are satisfied with these prepared products delivered to them by courier, more discerning buyers in China’s cities prefer to buy whole skin pieces complete with creases and hair to prove their authenticity, before grinding them into powder themselves.
The main source for Elephant skin is, at present, Myanmar, where officials have identified a poaching crisis that has developed rapidly since 2010. But traders have also mentioned other Asian Elephant range countries. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of known importers, online traders, physical salespeople and consumers are in China. The product labels are printed in Chinese, online traders communicate in Mandarin and prices are quoted in Chinese currency. In early 2018, the investigation found Elephant skin products on sale in Yunnan, Guangdong, and Fujian provinces of China.
Like many forms of illegal wildlife trade, traffickers are exploiting a traditional, usually medicinal use, to create new trends that drive demand, and allow them to profit from poaching. Of particular concern is the discovery that Chinese pharmaceutical companies are advertising the sale of medicine that contains Asian Elephant skin derivatives, and that China’s State Forestry Administration has apparently issued licenses for these products.
At a time when China has shown commitment to ending its domestic trade in Elephant ivory, it would be troubling and perverse to find that, at the same time, it is creating a new legal demand for Elephant skin products. Conservationists, law enforcement specialists and many governments agree that domestic wildlife markets facilitate the laundering of illicit commodities while simultaneously placing increased demand on law enforcement agencies as they attempt to address a growing and illegal wildlife trade with limited resources, inadequate criminal justice responses and institutional corruption.
The report outlines Elephant Family’s findings and provides evidence of a profoundly worrying trend in Elephant skin trade that severely threatens already fragile populations of Asian Elephants. Moreover, this new trend could easily spread to Africa as has been seen with other species. As one trader told Elephant Family investigators “it’s only skin – who cares if it comes from Asian Elephants or African Elephants”.
The report aims to provide greater insight into the illicit trade in Asian Elephant skin. We also raise critical questions that need answers, and make recommendations to guide urgent action by key stakeholders.
Key Findings Of The Report Found:
Since 2014, the trade in Asian Elephant skin has expanded from small-scale use to wholesale commercial trade as traffickers stimulate demand.
The first account of manufacturing Elephant skin beads was posted online in 2014. Elephant skin powder is now a dominant commodity sold as a medicine for stomach complaints.
Manufacture of Elephant skin products is taking place in Myanmar, Laos and China. The market in China is where skin products can reach several times the value at source. Elephant skin beads and powder are mainly traded through open online forums such as Baidu, and private personal messaging platforms such as WeChat. Traders use only Chinese language on forums and quote prices in Chinese currency.
The primary source of Asian Elephants used in the skin trade now appears to be Myanmar where poaching incidents have increased dramatically since 2010, with Elephant carcasses found with their skin removed entirely or in strips. Most traders also confirm that Elephant skin products use Asian Elephants, a species protected under Appendix I of CITES.
Elephant skin products have been found in physical markets in Mong La, Myanmar, and Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China and in January 2018 were also found in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China.
Documentation shows that China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) issued licenses for the manufacture and sale of pharmaceutical products containing Elephant skin. These commercially produced products, claiming to contain African and Asian Elephant skin, were advertised for sale by several Chinese companies.
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The Rhino was heavily pregnant and roaming Pilanesberg National Park in Mogwase, north-west South Africa, with its calf when they were hunted down for their horns.
These heartbreaking images show an unborn Rhino calf who died after its mother and sibling were shot and killed by poachers.
Photos show the poachers began hacking off the mother’s prized horn, but they were interrupted by park rangers and fled before they had time to remove it.
When park staff tried to save the unborn calf, it was found to have died inside its mother’s womb.
Pilanesberg National Park wrote on its official Facebook page: ‘There are no words.
‘Mom and calf shot and killed by poachers. Horns are still on as the murderers fled the scene when they heard a game drive approach. Mom looks very pregnant as well. We are devastated.’
Pilanesberg National Park added in the post that a reward will be issued for any information leading to an arrest and prosecution of the poachers.
A spokesperson for the park told MailOnline that the mother Rhino was aged eight and the calf just two years old. The unborn foetus would have been due in February next year.
‘We have lost 16 Rhino and 3 unborn calves so far 2017 – that we are aware of,’ the spokesperson said.
‘This loss is not due to lack of interest or effort from Park management, as this is a large park with many valleys and hills, which is a difficult territory to operate in.’
Since 2007, more than 6,000 Rhinos have been shot and butchered for their horns in South Africa alone.
The majority of those have come in the last four years with around a thousand being killed every year since 2013.
Sometimes the Rhinos are shot dead, in other cases they are brought down with a tranquiliser gun before having their horn hacked off – leaving the Rhino to wake up and bleed to death painfully and slowly.
The province of KwaZulu-Natal, which has the greatest density of Rhino in South Africa, has seen 139 slaughtered already this year.
Despite countries such as China, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and even India believing Rhino has medicinal values, repeated studies have not found any evidence to support the claims.
Rhino horns are made from a protein called keratin, the same substance that human fingernails and hair are made of. The horn is essentially just a compacted mass of hairs that continues to grow throughout the animal’s lifetime, just like human hair and nails.
It is similar in structure to horses’ hooves, turtle beaks, and cockatoo bills – however these animals are not hunted and slaughtered in the same way.
Tragically tradition and cultural beliefs in some Asian countries mean the demand for Rhino horn has not waned despite just some 20,000 white Rhino being left in the wild.
Poachers are now being supplied by international criminal gangs with sophisticated equipment to track and kill Rhinos. Based on the value of the Asian black market, Rhino horn price is estimated at $ 65,000 USD per kg*. In the near past, the Rhino horn price soared up around $65,000 per kilogram. This price hike turned the Rhino horn more valuable than gold and many other precious metals, also many times more worthy than Elephant ivory. (*2020 figures)
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The use of elephants in the tourism industry has become incredibly popular. Vacations boasting everything from a chance to ride on an elephant, to seeing them paint, or even getting a massage from an elephant have popped up all across Asia. While these might appear to be fun activities for you and your family, the reality is that the experience is anything but for the elephants.
Although elephants are incredibly intelligent and docile by nature, there is very little about the behaviors exhibited by captive elephants in the tourism industry that is natural. To get these wild animals to interact with humans, they must undergo an extraordinarily cruel breaking process, called “Phajaan,” that renders them submissive to their human trainers.
Breaking Baby Elephants Baby elephants are taken from their mothers at a very young age, usually three to six years old, but often younger. After a young elephant is in the captivity of its handlers, the aim of the Phajaan program is to break its spirit. Babies will be kept in small crates similar to those found in the intensive pig farming industry. Their feet will be tied with ropes, their limbs will be stretched, they will be repeatedly beaten with sharp metal and other tools, they will be constantly yelled and screamed at, and they will be starved of food. Bull hooks (a tool used in most forms of elephant control) will be used to stab the head, slash the skin and tug the ears.
The next time you see an Asian elephant used in trekking, elephant rides, movies, in a circus or any other form of entertainment, take a look at the state of its ears. Captive elephants often have shredded or torn ears from their tissue being ripped and pulled away in the training process. They also often have scars on their foreheads from deep lacerations caused by beatings.
Ropes are used to tie and stretch the elephant’s limbs, these will eventually be replaced with tight, constricting chains. The Phajaan may last for weeks and they have no rest from physical torture and mental domination. Gradually, their spirits break and their handlers achieve control.
The “Bond” Between Trainer and Elephant Traditionally in Eastern Asia, a mahout will be sole charge of a single elephant. As a mahout ages, his elephant is passed down through his family line. An elephant’s mahout will not be involved in the physical abuse during Phajaan. In the final stage of the Phajaan, the elephant’s mahout will bring the animal its first meal with water, and will be the one to “release” the elephant and lead it away from the crate. After weeks of torture, of mental and emotional abuse, of loneliness, confusion and
separation, the elephant sees this human figure as its savior – the one it trusts. This is just another stage of mental and emotional manipulation, of course, but it is how a particular mahout gains such immense control over its animal.
This video illustrates the cruelty of this process. We will warn you, it is graphic.
What You Can Do Getting the chance to interact with a baby elephant might seem like an incredible experience, but given the immense cruelty and abuse that that elephant has to endure for these interactions, is it really worth it? Asian elephants are highly endangered animals and are often targeted by poachers who capture them from the wild and sell them into the tourism industry. By visiting attractions that feature captive elephants and paying to ride or interact with one, you become complicit in this injustice.
We can all help to end this cruelty by boycotting tourism attractions that feature captive elephants. If you are headed to Thailand and want to experience elephants in a humane way, check out elephant sanctuaries like Elephant Nature Park or Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary. These organizations are helping to spread the truth about the cruelty inherent in elephant tourism while providing a sanctuary for animals who have been rescued from such attractions.
But remember, these elephants would not need to be in sanctuaries if the elephant tourism industry didn’t exist so please share this knowledge with others so we can see the cruelty against elephants end, once and for all.
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The Limbe Wildlife Centre (LWC) is a conservation education centre in Limbe, Cameroon. Above all, they provide a solution to law enforcement agencies for where to place wildlife seized from the illegal wildlife trade. For all elements of their work, they collaborate with state and national government, communities, and other international and local NGOs to protect habitats and endangered species. In brief, they in-situ and ex-situ activities that include rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction, conservation education and advocacy, law reinforcement, creating alternative livelihoods to hunting, and research. Through a holistic approach, the LWC aims to ensure the survival of Cameroon’s unique flora and fauna.
Ultimately, there are three main pillars to our work: rescue and rehabilitation, education and community.
The Limbe Wildlife Centre (LWC) is being hit hard by the current Covid-19 pandemic. With no volunteers or visitors coming to the centre, they have lost an important source of income, and much of their grant funding has been cut due to the global economic downturn. With travel and business restrictions happening across Cameroon, like in many other countries, they are struggling to obtain the food and medication needed every day for their rescued wildlife.
At this difficult time, they urgently need your help. They are dependent on your kindness to continue providing daily essential care to the more than 450 animals currently in their care.
Protect All Wildlife are supporting LWC continue their amazing work by selling these unique Ltd Edition tops to raise funds.
Roa, a hugely talented Belgian street artist from Ghent, is renowned for his giant black and white animal street art. Roa started off in the street art scene painting animals on abandoned buildings and warehouses in the isolated industrial areas of his hometown. Today, Roa’s animals may be found slumbering on the sides of semi derelict buildings and peering out from shop shutters in city streets all across the world from New York to Berlin and Warsaw to Paris.
Street artist Roa is a muralist from Ghent, Belgium sprays beautiful illustrations of animals on buildings, walls and anything he can find in cities around the World. His work has often been recorded and photographed, but very little is known about the artist and even less is documented.
Renowned for his monumental black and white paintings of wildlife, ROA is a pseudonym of a Belgian street artist that has been leaving both accidental and intentional viewers in awe for years now. His hand painted, large scale and unique portrayals of rabbits, birds, rats, fish and other animals disquietly cohabit city streets, whilst his more disturbing images of skeletal or dead creatures directly reflect ROA’s pessimistic opinions of society. Although this street artist’s work is definitely a contender when discussing the most famous and recorded urban pieces in recent history, not much is known about this mysterious painter from Ghent who uses this anonymity to make sure both his artwork and spirit remain uncompromised.
At a very young age Roa remembers wanting to be an archaeologist or something adventurous and collecting little skulls from birds and rodents to draw at home. He grew up in the eighties and naturally was inspired by the American life; music, skating and so forth. The love for music, more in particular hip-hop, quickly joined his curiosity in graffiti. Like most muralists, he began by spraying throw-ups under bridges and walls. During his early years, Roa expressed an active, eclectic mix of styles. At the time, there was not prevailing movement in Belgium. As time went on, the scene’s evolution further evolved as foreign visitors left behind an assorted collection of talents and skills. Slowly but sure Roa became addicted to the nature of urban art.
Roa is primarily known for his strong obsession for animals and rodents. He often combines life, death, and life after death in his murals, which quickly distinguishes him amongst traditional muralists. His animals are painted to include skeleton and internal organs, making the sight even more realistic. The artist states, “Organs are the vital substances of our body and they represent a lot of the symbolism which I like!” One’s love for animals could not be expressed nearly as much as our artist Roa. This mysterious Belgian muralist has created hundreds of murals through Europe. He has also travelled to other locations around the world.
His preferred forms of methods to paint are by using spray paint or acrylic paint. In fact, most of his work is created through a mixture of black, white, and grey scale colours. At times, the muralist prefers to sketch, especially those large murals. He first began his artistic career by paining buildings and warehouses in his hometown. Nowadays, his distinctive black and white style street artwork can be found worldwide.
Some major cities, where his work can be found include London, New York, Berlin, Warsaw, Madrid, Moscow, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Paris.
Muralist Roa’s true obsession for animals is unparalleled and he uses this obsession to paint for inspiration. Roa uses native animals based on the location he is painting in. For example, if he goes to a specific location filled with roosters, like Mexico, then he will paint a rooster. Not only does this make him a standout artist, but his attention to detail is phenomenal. He truly has a pure passion for painting. Roa simply paints to paint- no other reason.
Carefully using the placement and the enlarging of the graffiti subject, ROA implies the cruelty and absurd relationship of humans and animals, as well as displaying the roots and origins of the depicted beings – this is what’s his art all about.
Roa’s work has been turning heads across the street art community by bringing birds, rodents, and other animals back into the consciousness in the areas they once inhabited. Although the street art is generally conveyed in a very natural matter, even his dead animal paintings seem at peace. Not only that, but his extra-large scale black and while local rodents may be viewing the image at work from nearby.
Roa’s anonymity has kept his work and his spirit free.
Enjoy Some Of Roa’s Art From Around The World
These are just SOME of the vast amount of murals that Roa has created. You can visit his Facebook page at Roa Street Artist.
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An Elephant was found in Liwonde National Park, he was completely debilitated and had a wire snare trap digging into the flesh of his leg near his foot. The poor animal could not move, feed or even get water to alleviate his condition.
The Helpless Victim
It is said that hunters set snare traps to kill smaller wild animals and not Elephants. Unfortunately though, a helpless Elephant fell victim to it. This gained varied reactions in the social media where one Facebook user said, “Humans the only species to demonstrate such ‘inhumanity’, we should be ashamed.
This picture shows them inserting the needle, on which the IV lines are connected, into the Elephant’s ear on which arteries are accessible, and usually an endotracheal tube is inserted down the animal’s throat. The IV will allow the veterinarians to monitor blood-oxygen levels, while the tube ensures that the animal can continue breathing under anesthesia.
Injecting The Tranquilizer
Here we see Dr. Salb injecting the tranquilizer fluid into the iv line. They probably had to more or less guess the weight of this particular young Elephant in order to administer the correct dose. The others help to pull the uninjured leg up so that they are able to get to the injured one with the snare attached, that has dug very deeply into his flesh.
This adolescent must have really struggled and struggled to free himself, probably very confused and not sure what was holding him back. What an awful death he would have suffered. When the woozy pachyderm finally succumbs, not that he had any resistance left, they get to work on his wound.
Snare Trap Removed
Dr. Salb gets to work on removing the horrible wire snare. Derek MacPherson looks on resting his hand on the poor suffering Elephants trunk in a comforting gesture. Another helper looks on with some water with disinfectant, to clear the wound of debris etc., so that the snare can be seen properly to be able to remove it. The vet has to use really strong sharp side cutters and strength to unwind the strong wire that the poachers use.
Taking Off The Snare
And this is the offending bloody snare tightly wrapped around the young Elephant’s leg with a piece of flesh still embedded into it.
“It’s always devastating to see the dreadful damage these snares can do to such a big animal,” the Lilongwe Wildlife Center wrote on its Facebook page. Snares can cull animal populations at an alarming rate. Hunters/poachers set snare traps with aims to kill smaller wild animals than Elephants, which can decimate animal populations at an unsustainable rate, according to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). Just 1,000 of these snares can capture 18,250 animals in a year — even Elephants, whose population is already plummeting because of the ivory trade.
The Infected Wound
To make things even more sad, the young Elephant’s wound appears to be infected. Here you can see that the wound is being cleaned out the blood and puss from the deeply cut leg of the Elephant which appears to be almost cut to the bone. Needless to say, this poor Elephant must have been in a lot of pain. Luckily while they work, he is safely in dreamland and not feeling the excruciating pain for the moment.
In this picture you can see that the Elephant’s wound has been washed clean and is ready for some topical treatment. It is also noticeable that the animal has lost a lot of weight and looks very weak. And from the position of the person’s hand you can see the depth that the snare cut into the leg.
The whole procedure went extremely well Dr. Salb said “Although the wound was really deep, we’re all so pleased that we were able to remove the snare entirely and give him the required treatment.”
The Young Elephant Still Sleeping
At this point, the whole procedure has been completed with topical ointments applied and antibiotics administered. Looking at the photo, a game park ranger watches over the young Elephant. The African Park scouts and the Rhino Protection Team also helped in monitoring the condition of the animal.
Here veterinarian Amanda Salb seems to be double checking on the Elephant. Probably taking some measurements and statistics for their records. Wildlife vet, Amanda Salb, is the heroine along with her team, in this important role of saving wildlife discovered alive in national parks.
Many similar incidents occur on a regular basis in this huge park and it is also because of its vastness that the difficulty of monitoring arises. Nevertheless, the world isn’t lacking with people who show immense compassion to animals.
A radio collar is fitted to the injured Elephant. The Elephant gets a radio collar so he can be found again for follow-up treatment. The Elephant will continue to be monitored by African Parks scouts and the Rhino Protection Team, and if he needs any further treatment, Wildlife vet, Amanda Salb and her team will be on call.
Lilongwe Wildlife Trust reported that despite his gory injury, the pain seemed to have subsided quickly because, two days after the rescue, the Elephant was spotted at the watering hole with his herd. “He was bathing normally and seemed bright,” Salb said.
This Elephant is one of the lucky few that got found in time and treated, and that the treatment was adequate and the little fellow was strong. As Elephants have long memories I am sure he will not forget his horrific ordeal in a hurry. Let us hope the same thing does not occur again. People voiced their reactions online to this particular Elephant’s brush with a snare trap. “Humans the only species to demonstrate such ‘inhumanity’, we should be ashamed.”
Operation Safe Haven
Nearly 50% of animals living in the park had been slaughtered before ‘Operation Safe Haven’ moved in in November 2014. They detected and removed 10,000 deadly poachers’ traps that covered the park, and arrested over 70 criminal poachers and 6 wildlife traffickers, securing hefty fines or prison sentences against the majority.
At the end of Operation Safe Haven the security of the national park was handed over to a team of long-term managers, African Parks. The future of the Elephants and Rhinos here is now assured and the breakthrough formula should be applied to other national parks. At least our young Elephant is a bit safer in his habitat now.
This photo alone tells just how rampant poaching is. The snares all look terrifying considering that they are used as instrument to trap and slowly kill their poor victims.
The Hunt For Ivory
Here for interest sake is a haul of poached ivory confiscated from people, that set traps, shoot and kill Elephants for their tusks. These were bound for Asia. We are thankful that there are still people around that care for the endangered species of animals in Africa, especially Elephant and Rhino.
Sunset Over Liwonde Game Reserve
Here is a beautiful picture of a sunset over the watering hole at the Liwonde Game Reserve in Malawi, where the young Elephant was found. Hopefully he is completely recovered and enjoying the peaceful surroundings.
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This incredible video shows the moment an Elephant rushed to save her keeper who she thought was drowning.
This baby Elephant thought the man who looked after her was drowning and rushes to save him . The Save Elephant Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, captured little Kham La racing to the ‘aid’ of Darrick Thomson, the co-founder of the foundation and one of her favorite people ever.
Darrick was calling out to her on the shore, and she interpreted his calls as distress cries (he was totally fine, though). Kham La charged through the water, sheltering him with her body and offering her trunk for him to hold on to.
The video shows him swimming, and splashing about in the water.
Faithful Kham La seems to think he might be in trouble and races into the water to rescue him.
As soon as Kham La thinks her trainer is in peril she dashes into the water
The 42-year-old said: “Kham La was in a really bad way when she came to us.
The beautiful moment Kham La reaches Darrick to check he is OK
“She had been tied up and forced to undergo cruel training known as crushing to prepare her to work in the tourist industry.
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In Memory of Impi and Gugu who were killed in the raid.
Françoise Malby-Anthony, who founded the Thula Thula game reserve in 1998 with her late husband, the renowned conservationist and internationally bestselling author Lawrence Anthony recalls the awful night that poachers attacked her Rhino orphanage on the 27th of February 2017
THE NIGHT POACHERS ATTACKED A RHINO ORPHANAGE
“Living alone on a vast African game reserve is not for the faint-hearted. And that night, even after 17 years in the wilderness, I felt a strange sense of unease.
It was 2am . White flashes of lightning were lighting up my bedroom. Thunder cracked like gunshots. As I stroked my dog, Gypsy, trying to reassure her, I suddenly realised that the phone was ringing.
‘Hello?’ I mumbled.
‘The orphanage has been hit. They shot two rhinos and attacked the volunteers.’
I sat bolt upright. Hit? Shot? Attacked? I couldn’t process the words.
I’d created the animal orphanage just a year before in order to fill a desperate need. Increasingly, poachers had been targeting adult rhinos for their horns — to sell to the Far East for useless traditional potions.
Any defenceless babies, whose horns had yet to grow, were left to die in the bush. Or if they were found in time, they were brought to my orphanage.
On that very night, I knew that four animal-mad girl volunteers and a permanent carer were providing intensive nursing for six vulnerable baby rhinos and a young hippo.
Panic-stricken, I ran to my general manager’s cottage and banged on the door.
‘Lynda! It’s me! Open up!’ I yelled, shivering in the rain. ‘Poachers at the orphanage. I’ll never manage the roads in this weather. We need your 4×4.’
She saw the horror on my face and asked no questions. ‘Give me five minutes.’ The rain smacked our faces as we sprinted to her car.
We crept along the dirt track leading to the orphanage, struggling to see, not speaking, hearts hammering. What would we find?
The men who slash rhinos’ faces for their horns are utterly barbaric — far beyond the conception of my trusting young volunteers. One wrong move or word, and an agitated lunatic could well have killed the girls.
Slowly, painfully slowly, we struggled through the downpour. As we arrived at the orphanage, one of my anti-poaching guards ran out.
‘What were you thinking, driving here on your own?’ he burst out. ‘The attackers could still be in the reserve! Quick. Get under cover.’
I stared at him. ‘Is anyone hurt?’ I asked. He nodded, grim-faced, and took us inside . . .
Baby rhinos don’t run. They half-bounce, half-fly as they hurtle towards you with an inquisitive look on their soft faces.
Or so I discovered when I first met Thabo, who’d been a terrified newborn when he was found, his umbilical cord still dragging below him in the dust. His mother had almost certainly been killed by poachers, and it was a miracle he’d survived even a day on his own.
Now Thabo was two months old, and had just arrived from a reserve that could no longer keep him. He nestled his snout gently against my leg — and I melted.
I’d just agreed to give him a permanent home on the land that my husband and I had bought in South Africa, intending to turn it into a game reserve that would keep animals safe from poachers.
We called it Thula Thula — Zulu for ‘quiet’. Within a few years, we’d built a game lodge, started taking in paying guests and had adopted an entire herd of wild elephants — though no rhinos.
But that was about to change: as I stroked Thabo, I knew with absolute certainty what needed to happen next. I was going to create a haven where orphaned rhinos could heal after their trauma.
That was back in 2011. By the time I’d raised enough funds and rhino-proofed an existing building, my husband Lawrence had died tragically young of a heart attack.
For a long time after I lost him, I lurched from one crisis to the next, never feeling anything was under control. Even small decisions felt overwhelming at first, but creating the orphanage gave me a focus, a reason to get up every day.
There was so much at stake. If the heating fails in our game lodge, we might get a bad rating on TripAdvisor, but the guests won’t die. A heating failure in the orphanage’s high-care ward, on the other hand, will soon kill a baby rhino.
Our first call came in April 2015. An anti-poaching unit had just found the carcass of an adult female rhino, with her horn hacked off, but no sign of her calf. Would we take it in if they could track it down? By running away, the six-month old calf had at least avoided being butchered for the tiny horn beginning to grow on his head. With rhino horn fetching £68,000 per kilo on the Far Eastern market, the poachers would have killed him for every gram they could get.
By the time Ithuba was traced, it was a week since his mother had died. Heavily sedated when he arrived, he was covered in infected tick bites and close to death. That first night, he was put on a drip and slept peacefully — but the second night was hell.
It was as if he was going through all the trauma of the past week — his mother’s murder, being transported in a clanging trailer and then finding himself in a strange room with two-legged animals who looked just like the ones who’d killed his mother.
The mere sight of his carers sent him careering around his room in panic — and 200 kilos of agitated rhino can do a lot of damage to a pair of human legs. His high-pitched squeals of terror pierced every corner of the orphanage.
Eventually, we persuaded him to drink milk from a bottle. Then colic struck and nightmares. He’d shiver and jerk about in his sleep; on waking, he’d spin around his room in panic, flinging himself against the walls.
‘What Ithuba’s going through isn’t unusual,’ the vet assured us. ‘People think post-traumatic stress is only experienced by humans, but his emotional recovery is going to be far more complicated than his physical recovery.’
It’s heartbreakingly hard to comfort traumatised animals, but our carers did it with infinite patience and affection. Slowly, Ithuba began to understand they weren’t like the people who’d hurt his mother.
I’ll never forget the day when I saw him trotting happily next to Axel, an easygoing young French carer. Ithuba kept bumping into his leg, as if to reassure himself that he wasn’t alone any more.
Another huge step was the revival of his curiosity. Rejecting other toys, Ithuba homed in on anything made out of tyre, including his food bowl which was a home-made tyre contraption. He’d tip it over, throw out the food, fling the bowl about until it started rolling, then run after it. Finally, he’d balance it on his head, preening and strutting like a dressage horse.
BFFs: The two baby rhinos, Thabo and Ntombi, were soon inseparable
Yet for a long time, he also continued to have panic attacks. He’d be playing happily, then he’d suddenly squeal in fright, latch onto a corner of his carer’s sleeve and suckle it — rather like a baby sucks its thumb.
Slowly, however, his insecurity faded — and his appetite exploded. By the time he was nine months old, he’d doubled his weight and turned into a happy little rhino tank who’d soon be starting a new life in the wild.
The next rhino calf delivered to the orphanage had also lost his mother to poachers. He’d stood by his mother’s body for six days, desperately tugging at her decaying teats while vultures tore her flesh. How do you even start to console a little creature who’s been through that?
Megan, a fresh-faced young British girl, remained with Impi for his entire first night as he ran round and round in circles, crying non-stop, too terrified to sleep, desperate to find his mother.
‘I kept talking to him,’ she said. ‘I told him what had happened to him, that he was safe with us, that there was another baby rhino just like him called Ithuba, and that I was sure they would be friends.
‘He eventually came up to stand silently at my knees. He looked so lost. I longed to take him in my arms to comfort him but I didn’t dare move in case I frightened him. Then he collapsed at my feet and fell asleep.’
Within three days, however, little Impi was on the mend. Ravenously hungry, he’d indignantly head-butt his carers if his bottle wasn’t ready when he wanted it.
One morning, Megan was on her hands and knees giving the floor a good scrub when she felt two little eyes boring into her. Impi edged closer and nestled his chin on her shoulder. And there it stayed, as he shuffled along to keep pace with Megan’s movements.
Some calves are boisterous and belligerent, but not Impi. He was a tender little creature who was afraid of everything and hated being left alone.
Like Ithuba, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and unfamiliar sounds — even a bird’s squawk — would send him fleeing, squealing in panic.
Nights were a terrible struggle. No matter how exhausted he was, he didn’t feel safe enough to lie down until a volunteer had started reading him a book. Then he’d quietly nestle on the hay next to her, burrow his head into her legs and fall into the deepest sleep.
Ithuba, meanwhile, wasn’t happy about losing his pampered role as the only rhino at the orphanage — and particularly jealous when he realised that Impi was in his old room. Again and again, he charged the barrier to get in; only the sound of Axel rolling a tyre behind him managed to distract the cross little rhino.
The next orphan to arrive was Thando, who’d been discovered neck-deep in mud and unable to move. There was no sign of his mother.
It took five men to pull Thando out of the mud, and there were whoops of delight when they saw he was strong enough to stand.
The DIFFERENCE in Thando’s behaviour from that of the other two rhinos was startling. Rather than being petrified when he woke up in a strange room surrounded by humans, he was merely stroppy.
Happily, he hadn’t had to witness his mother being hacked to death, nor had he been on his own in the wilderness for nights on end. As a result, he very quickly became one of the orphanage’s most laid-back little rhinos.
Eventually we decided that Impi and Thando should meet, as they were similar ages. So, one overcast summer’s afternoon, we left the doors and barriers to their rooms open at feeding time. The carers hovered out of sight nearby.
Impi, usually such a timid little rhino, immediately charged at Thando, who didn’t so much as blink. Baffled by this non-reaction, Impi skidded to a halt and stared at him.
After a lot of posturing and strutting on both sides, they headed inside and flopped down on a mattress, their stumpy little legs entwined. From then on, they were best friends, constantly cuddling up or practising charging techniques on each other.
Another successful pairing was between Charlie, a baby hippo found alone in a river, terrified of water, and a newborn rhino called Makhosi, abandoned because he was too tiny to reach his mother’s teats. As both were under a week old, we put them in the same room.
Amazingly, Makhosi scampered straight up to the hippo. For his part, Charlie swayed his big head from side to side in greeting and reached his snout towards her.
First, they exchanged interested noisy snuffles. Then Makhosi lowered her head and Charlie gently chomped her ears. Finally, the tiny rhino clambered onto the hippo’s mattress, nuzzled up against him and fell fast asleep.
After that, they trotted everywhere together, demanded to be fed at the same time, and cuddled up whenever they needed warmth or reassurance.
When Charlie’s teeth started to cut through, his gums became sore and inflamed, and he lost his appetite. His rhino friend knew just what to do: she comforted him with gentle nudges, then fell asleep each night with her snout touching his.
Charlie, the baby hippo who was scared of water standing bravely in his paddling pool with pal Makhosi close by
More orphans were now flooding in. Nandi, our first black rhino, was another newborn whose mother had been killed. She was afraid of the dark and wouldn’t go to sleep without a blanket tucked tightly around her.
If it slid off, she squealed until her carer woke up and tucked her back in again. What a little princess!
Then there was Storm, who’d probably been rejected by his mother. He had so many parasites that we almost lost him.
And finally there was Gugu, a healthy rhino calf who wanted nothing to do with her carers. It was her choice to drink from a bucket rather than a bottle — anything to keep humans at bay.
When she first saw Impi and Thando, however, she broke out into high-pitched calls of delight. And as for Ithuba, our original rhino calf, he became the love of her life.
Poor Ithuba was so much older than the others that we had to keep him in a separate enclosure. Undeterred, Gugu would spend hours walking out with her strapping neighbour, each keeping pace with the other on either side of the fence.
By the start of 2016, our baby rhinos were all thriving and protected by round-the-clock security guards. It made no difference.
On the terrible rain-lashed night that poachers attacked the animal orphanage, I arrived to find our terrified girl volunteers huddled together in an office. One of them had only been with us for a few hours, her dream of working with orphaned animals now a savage nightmare.
Slowly, as they sobbed and cried, I started piecing together what had happened.
Just as the team had finished the first evening feed, five heavily armed men had breached the fence, disabling cameras and cutting cables as they crept towards our security guard. Two of them had attacked him from behind and tied him up.
Then they waited, patient predators, biding their time until the next feed. Axel, the only staff member there that night, had gone to bed while the two girls on feeding duty chatted and laughed as they prepared bottles for the hippo and the rhino calves.
Suddenly, they were ambushed by the poachers, and shoved into a locked office. At gunpoint, Axel was roused and forced to round up the rest of the volunteers.
‘Where are the rhino horns?’ the attackers kept asking. Needless to say, we didn’t have any, but Axel was beaten and one of the girls was severely assaulted.
The poachers must have known that Gugu and Impi — now our oldest rhinos at the orphanage — were due to leave soon. And that meant they’d already have stubby little horns.
While three men guarded the youngsters, two others, armed with guns and an axe, headed for the calves. They pumped bullets into Gugu and Impi for horns no bigger than a child’s fist.
Gugu died instantly, sweet Impi didn’t. The poachers didn’t give a damn. They held him down and hacked his face with the axe.
Were they disconcerted by his terrified expression? Superstitions run deep in rural Zululand, where it’s thought that eyes have memories. So the poachers did the unthinkable — they poked out Impi’s eyes.
Half an hour later, the men and their bounty were gone.
Meanwhile, the guard in the storeroom had escaped and was running barefoot through the reserve to raise the alarm. Petrified of being caught, he avoided roads and tore through the bush in the pitch dark, shredding his feet in the process.
To this day, I can’t bear to think about Impi and the anguish of his carers. They’d hand-raised him, and there was nothing they could do to ease his terror and pain.
Impi was euthanised as soon as our vet arrived. The tragedy was that both calves had been days away from becoming wild rhinos again.
The next 24 hours are a blur. I have flashes of memory: the ashen faces of the girls, the explosive racket of the storm, the atrocity of Impi’s injuries, the chaos in my heart.
For a while, I lost faith in mankind. I lost hope in saving rhinos.
Demand for their horns will never stop; they’ll always be in danger, as will the men and women who risk their lives guarding them.
What I do remember with profound gratitude is the phone call from Megan, the British girl who’d helped look after Impi and Gugu. Now back home, she offered to start a campaign to pay for improving the orphanage’s security.
Donations flooded in from all over the world. The outpouring of love and concern was incredible: more than £45,000 was raised.
The cash has paid for more round-the-clock armed guards and extra protection for staff during night feeds. We’ve also upgraded our entire security system.
Update 2/23: Two male suspects have now been arrested for the killing of two baby rhinos and the assault of the staff at Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage, according to SA people. The men are apparently part of a “notorious gang,” and they were heavily armed when police found them.
As the number of rhinos killed by poachers keep rising and more traumatized orphaned calves are in need of care, Kirsten Everett, a volunteer at Nikela, takes us on a touching journey as she looks at the horrors of a poacher attack though the eyes of a young Rhino calf.
“My mother and I were contently filling our hungry stomachs when we heard a strange noise. I carried on eating but she smelt the air for unknown scents. I saw the terrified look in her eye before she managed to control it; the unnatural smell meant something. A few minutes later we heard the ‘whop, whop’ of a metal monster flying closer towards us. Just when my mother focussed on it the men crept out of the bushes with a crunch of sticks. Something seemed to hit her and she grunted in surprise. The birds abandoned their posts heading away from the danger. I stood helplessly as she tried to run but ended up falling to the ground. The men surrounded her and tried to chase me away. I ran forward scared enough to not care about the men as they had done something to my mother, I needed her and they must go away.
Out of nowhere one of the big men spun on me and hit me hard with something sharp. Blood oozed from my wound as my mother answered my cry for help with a weak beg, ‘Away, away’. I backed away nursing my wound, how could I get to her?? She grunted again so I didn’t give up. I ran forward again but this time the angry man was merciless, determined to get his message across. As quietly as possible I took the cuts to my poor head trying not to worry my mother even more.
Confused I backed away into the bushes calling to her to get up, but the eerie silence dragged on and she didn’t move a muscle. Fear glued me to the floor as I felt my young heart pulsing with anger and fear. A breeze blew, as I waited for the monsters to go so I could go to my poor mommy and find out what was wrong. My heart skipped a beat when I realised this was what my cousin had gone through only a full moon ago. It was terrible, my body couldn’t stop shaking and I couldn’t think clearly, I felt lightheaded from all my blood loss.
Finally when the monsters left I ran to her side, ‘Mom wake up.’ My voice cracked with emotion but still she didn’t respond. I took a step back and saw the pool of blood. Her horn had been brutally cut off and she lay lifeless. Above me a crow flew over.
I turned to run then I asked myself some important questions… where would I go? I wasn’t old enough to know the way to the dam yet. Who would protect me from predators? The truth was that I wasn’t strong enough to survive by myself yet. Would I be with my mother in the sky sooner than I thought? The last question scared me the most; out in the wild without my mother I might just be able to survive a week.
I heard the snap of a twig, I wasn’t alone. This time I didn’t have the strength to care what these humans wanted with me. I collapsed and slept for a few hours. I was almost completely unconscious though I sensed kindness near me. Too traumatised to do anything I lay as they treated my wounds. The people who tried to comfort me planted a seed of hope. Hope that I could survive and hope that the rest of the human race would come to its senses and help my species and all the others out there”.
Written by Kirsten Everett. Based loosely on the story of “Ntombi” who was rescued by Karen Trendler and her team.
Update (July 31, 2013): This is Ntombi feeling good and playful
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