The beginning of the story of “Dodo” and “Berthie” dates back to our reserve in the South African Limpopo Region nearly ten years ago. At that time, the white rhino mother “Bertha” had a six months old calf Berthie. At this age, the bond between a mother and her baby is extremely strong, as the almost newborn is still extremely dependent on the mother. While being with his mother, Berthie almost did not have any natural enemies that could have threatened him. Unfortunately, the predator that is most dangerous for rhinos is one that you would usually not find on the reserve. Driven by the demand for rhino horn in some Asian countries, poachers track down and severely injure or kill rhinos. Frequently a tranquiliser gun is used to bring the rhino down, before its horn is hacked off, leaving the rhino to wake up and bleed to death very slowly and painfully. Sadly, this is not only the fate of over 1,000 rhinos each year (one every ten hours!) but also this is what happened to our beloved Bertha. Les Brett, our onsite manager at the reserve, found the dying mother and her baby at that time. As Bertha suffered from heavy injuries after being mutilated by the poachers, Les was forced to end her life by executing the “coup de grace”. As a result of increasing protection measures and anti-poaching-unit (APU) involvement, Bertha is the first and only white rhino to be poached in our reserve until today. With his mother gone, Berthie’s odds of survival as an orphan were slim. Without help, this baby probably would not have made it, as continuous care and help from the mother animal, especially in the first years of birth, are essential in terms of surviving. Furthermore, rhinos at this age still need adult protection from predators, as particularly large prides of lions can easily take down such a vulnerable juvenile. Noticing the real danger Berthie was in, Les took the baby and raised it like his own child by providing food, taking care of injuries, and showing love. As Berthie belonged to the foundation’s current reserve at the time, he is protected from any form of trophy hunting and, if not being the target of another cruel attack by poachers, has a long and fulfilling life ahead of him. Two weeks before Berthie was taken in, the vet in charge had found another orphaned baby rhino in another reserve and asked Les if he could take care of it, too. Seeing the opportunity to unite the two individuals, Les decided to take care of the other baby, Dodo, with the same passion and energy. Thus, Berthie and Dodo had a companion from this point onwards, which was extremely important for the development of these two young and social animals. Originally, Dodo legally belonged to a South African, who did not care much about the animal. After receiving a request for shooting by a foreign trophy hunter, the original owner wanted to sell Dodo, which would have been the end of this precious creature. Almost a decade after his mother was brutally killed by poachers, Dodo was now at danger of being another victim of humankind cruelty. Although White rhinos are strictly protected as a species in South Africa, those particular animals owned by individuals are treated as legal property, making this form of trophy hunting not illegal. As this was the case with Dodo, he could have been released for “sport” hunting. While this form of hunting in general is a heinous practice, this particular case is especially perfidious. Dodo was raised by Les and is, thus, familiarised with human beings. Rhinos, for example, have an extremely good hearing, so when Les is speaking to them, they recognize him and show similar behaviour to that what we know from dogs. The shooting of Dodo would have meant another loss of one of Africa’s most endangered species. We as AMES Foundation made the decision to save Dodo’s life by legally purchasing him, thereby making him the first official animal of the AMES Foundation. If we can protect our rhinos and other valuable species through continuous conservation efforts, Dodo, and his best buddy “Berthie”, can live together in peace, harmony and the safety of our reserve.
Why White Rhinos Matter
With their distinctive horn and unique appearance, the rhinoceros is one of Africa’s most recognizable mammal families. In Africa, two different species of rhinoceros can be found: the white rhino or square-lipped rhino and the black or hook-lipped rhino. While one could think that the choice of name is due to differences in the respective skin colour, the actual reason behind the names lays behind the shape of the mouth, as people were calling the square-lipped rhino “wide rhino”. Over time this turned into “white” rhino for the one species and, in order to have a clear distinction, led to the name “black” rhino for the other species. Today, there are two subspecies of white rhino. The one we have on our reserve, is the far more common southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum). In fact, the southern white rhino will be the only remaining subspecies in Africa, as the northern counterpart will soon be extinct in the wild, with the last male individual dying in 2018.
With about 98.5% of the ca. 20,000 remaining southern individuals occur in just five countries (South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Uganda), there is a special need in these regions for protection and conservation so that history does not repeat itself.
Rhinos have been around for millions of years and play a crucial role in their ecosystem. As large grazers, consuming large amounts of vegetation, they play a key role in shaping the African landscape. White rhinos can live to be up to 40–50 years old. The male, averaging about 2,300 kg, is heavier than the female, at an average of about 1,700 kg and by mean body mass, the white rhinoceros falls behind only the three extant species of elephant as the largest land animal and terrestrial mammal alive today. Female rhinos are social animals — mother and daughter can live together for their whole lives — and can live in herds of up to ten individual animals. On the other hand, most adult males (“bulls”) are solitary and territorial animals. The southern white rhinoceros is listed as “Near Threatened” by ICUN, being endangered by habitat loss, continuous poaching in recent years, and the high illegal demand for rhino horn for commercial purposes. By helping protect rhinos, we are helping to conserve their habitat for the benefit of people and wildlife, helping support local communities through ecotourism, and making sure natural resources are available for generations to come.