The birth of a baby rhino is always a miracle, and the pudgy new addition at Kariega Game Reserve family in South Africa is no exception. In fact, this little girl is downright wondrous. She was born almost exactly a year after her father was brutally poached. That bull rhino was nicknamed Hope for his heart-wrenching struggle to survive. Hope didn't make it, but it appears he left behind more than just fond memories.
Although it may seem a small triumph in the grand scheme of rhino conservation, the birth of a new calf helps remind us that there is always hope.
In March 2012, rangers at Kariega Game Reserve woke up after a seemingly tranquil moonlit night to discover three white rhinos huddled in tall grasses matted with blood. Two were still struggling to breathe, and one had already died in the night. Poachers had shot the gentle, prehistoric-looking giants and then sliced deep with their pangas to scrape out every fragment of horn.
Miraculously, the surviving bull and cow were able to limp off into the bushes with the help of a wildlife veterinary team. Over the course of the next month the grim determination of the surviving rhinos to carry on in spite of their life-threatening injuries earned them special nicknames, The bull was called Themba, which means Hope, and the cow was named Thandi, or Love.
Three weeks after the poaching, unable to regain his strength, Hope died. On the night that Hope passed, Dr. William Fowlds, one of the vets who had worked so tirelessly to save him wrote on his website: "The past day's events have taken me to the lowest point of my battle to help save a species. I know many others feel the same. What we do now is the true test of our resolve to overcome the evil that threatens to overwhelm the world's remaining rhino. Our ability to act, to actually do something to make a difference, will be the measure of who we are."
Love somehow managed to persevere even after losing Hope, and today, appears to have recovered completely, although her horn has still not grown back. The mother of the new baby rhino is in fact one of Love's closest companions on the game reserve.
Rhino horn is sold to China and Vietnam, where it is used in traditional medicine practices as a kind of panacea. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only about 50 rhinos left in South Africa. By 2008 the population had been built back up to 17,000.
All the relentless work of conservationist to nurture this species back to health, however, is being threatened by a dramatic increase in rhino poaching in the last few years. In 2007, 13 rhinos were lost to poachers in South Africa. In 2012, 668, lost their lives, and some conservationist fear that if the current trend continues, as many as 1,000 rhinos will be slaughtered this year.
"The fight of Thandi and Themba is just one story representing the brutality being carried out against the rhino species," said Graeme Rushmere, co-owner of Kariega Game Reserve, in a statement. "At Kariega, it is our hope that their struggle is not in vein and inspires all wildlife lovers to take up the cause so that our little ones can live to see a ripe old age. Although it may seem a small triumph in the grand scheme of rhino conservation, the birth of a new calf helps remind us that there is always hope."