Poaching is the single biggest threat to elephants, rhinos, and numerous other animals whose body parts are often wanted for medicines, food, and fashion and it claims the lives of millions of innocent creatures globally each year. Rhinos in particular are approaching the brink of extinction, with just a few thousand left in the wild while poachers continue to kill over one thousand every year since 2013.
When rhinos are poached, they are first tranquilized and then have their horns brutally hacked off, causing them to bleed to death while enduring excruciating pain as they wake up. This is exactly what a group of three rhinos went through at Kariega Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, South Africa but, amazingly, two initially survived.
When wildlife veterinarians arrived at the scene, they saw that there was a male and female, named Themba and Thandi, still conscious but struggling on the ground. In a video about the incident, wildlife vet Dr. William Fowlds said,
“My first meeting with Thandi was the day she was poached. The very first vision that I had of her was of her lying in a pool of blood. My first impression when I saw her was that there’s no way we’re going to save this animal.” He added, “What do you think when you see an animal that is in that much trauma to even try and give an animal like this a chance? When she did get to her feet I was astounded. There was a level of consciousness there that gave us some hope that she might be okay.”
Both Thandi and Themba stood up and persevered, but Themba was not as lucky as Thandi with his recovery. Though Dr. Fowlds said he had hope every single day that Themba showed that he wanted to continue fighting, the male rhino sadly died just 24 days after he was poached. Themba had ventured to a nearby watering hole, where he slipped in and drowned because he was too weak to push himself back out of the water. When officials discovered him in the water, Fowlds was on the scene and completely broke down. On that fateful day, he said through tears,
“I feel so broken. You need to take the story of Themba and the story of Thandi and you need to tell the world what these animals are going through.”
Despite this tragedy, Thandi continued to fight for her life and made it through her recovery, becoming so healthy again that she was found to be pregnant within a couple years after her horrible incident. In the wake of this news, wildlife officials began calling her calf the “rhino that should have never been born.” She gave birth in January of 2015 to a healthy baby girl, who they named Thembi, after the male rhino that died before her and because the word means “hope” in the Xhosa language, one of the languages spoken in South Africa.
As if this weren’t enough, exactly two years later, just three months ago, Thandi disappeared and the staff at the reserve was afraid that she had been targeted again by poachers because her horn had started to grow back. They called in Fowlds, who spent hours searching for her with a drone, and wasn’t able to locate her until the last ten minutes of light for that day. What they discovered was amazing.
“The drone hovered over her and we stared into that screen, anxious for an explanation [as to why Thandi had disappeared]. And then suddenly, there he was! From under Thandi’s neck area, out popped the tiniest rhino miniature and we were elated,” said Fowlds.
They weren’t sure when the rhino had been born, but it was evident that the baby boy was healthy and came at the perfect time: just 10 days prior, the founder of the reserve, Colin Rushmore, had passed away and left everyone emotional. Thandi’s disappearance added to this distress, but when they discovered her new baby, they decided to name him Colin.
These babies should have never been born. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t have been born under the threat of one day being poached or becoming orphans if their mom were to be poached again. However, it is an absolute miracle that their mom not only survived her traumatic experience but also lived to essentially replace the two unfortunate souls whose lives were taken on the same day poachers tried to claim hers.
Watch the video below about the birth of Thandi’s first baby.