Where Rhinos Roam: the great translocation


It’s been a minute since we last checked in with you! We thought it was time we shared what’s been happening at Safari Giants. As Covid has receded, many of our clients have been travelling again and enjoying great adventurers. We’ve been having some great adventures ourselves, and Dex recently experienced something truly remarkable: the relocation of The Rhino Orphanage, including all their rhinos.

If you follow us on our social media platforms, you’ll know that The Rhino Orphanage is a cause that’s close to our hearts. Founded in 2012 by Arrie van Deventer and his wife Marietjie, The Rhino Orphanage was the first ever specialised, non-commercial facility dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, raising, and release of orphaned rhinos back into the wild. Arrie and Marietjie founded the orphanage to create a solution for baby rhinos that were left orphaned due to poaching.

Dex’s relationship with The Rhino Orphanage began in 2012 through the organisation that he founded, Youth 4 African Wildlife (Y4AW). In 2012, interns with Y4AW made a documentary about the poaching crisis in Africa and highlighted the plight through footage and information gained via The Rhino Orphanage. Dex has been a member of the Board of Directors of The Rhino Orphanage since 2013, and has harnessed his business networks to raise vital funds for both elephant and rhino conservation.

The strapline for The Rhino Orphanage is Nthlo ya Lerato, which means House of Love in Sesotho. And it’s through hard work, dedication, and unconditional love for the rhinos under their care that The Rhino Orphanage has grown from strength to strength.

During 2022, Arrie seized the opportunity to relocate The Rhino Orphanage from its existing location to a new, more spacious farm. As Chairman of the Board of Directors for The Rhino Orphanage, Dex and some other board members assisted in the relocation of the last six rhinos. The bulk of the rhinos had already been relocated over the previous weeks. All those who were left to move were Kolisi, Phil, Thula, Duane, Robynne, and the sweetest, smallest Benji.

Cold mornings, warm hearts

It was a typical, crisp Winter’s morning in Limpopo when Dex arrived at the “old” rhino orphanage. The vet, Dr Pierre Bester, was already briefing the team involved in the translocation and was preparing to tranquilise the rhinos. For those who may not know, rhinos can’t be transported whilst fully asleep because if they lie down with their limbs tucked under their bodies, their body weight can cut off the circulation to their limbs and cause permanent damage. For this reason, a precise dosage of tranquiliser must be administered to allow the rhinos to be corralled into the transportation trailers. Once in the trailers, Dr Pierre rouses the rhinos so that they can stand and be stable during transportation.

The day before Dex arrived, the team had translocated two black rhinos. In Arrie’s words, “Black rhinos are born without a sense of humour”, and the black rhinos that were relocated lived up to their feisty reputation. Unlike white rhinos, who are compliant when tranquilised, black rhinos tend to flee when the tranquiliser kicks in. It takes skill, experience, and a strong set of legs to help guide black rhinos safely into their trailer crate. In addition, when black rhinos arrive at their destination, they often emerge from the trailer feeling cranky, and it’s best to keep well away.

As soon as the tranquiliser takes effect, it’s imperative that the rhinos are gently blindfolded and that ear plugs are inserted. This reduces stress from overstimulation. Blindfolding must be done extremely carefully so that the fabric doesn’t damage the rhino’s eyes. Tear gel is generously applied to prevent their eyes from drying out, and the attendant carer makes sure that the rhinos eyes remain closed.

Big adventure on bumpy roads

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but we might say it takes a village to move a rhino. Dex assisted the team to guide the enormous, tranquilised rhinos onto the trailer crate. With four people pushing on either side of the rhino, and two people guiding the rhino by tugging on its horn, the rhinos remained upright as they entered the crate. Once settled, Dr Pierre Bester administered the antidote to make the rhinos more alert so that they could stay upright for the journey.

After a long drive on dusty, gravel roads, the convoy of trailers and support vehicles finally arrived at the new facility. Dex watched as the rhinos were gently coaxed, one by one, into the boma (large, open-air enclosure). Phil was the first to be released, and it didn’t take long for him to find his bearings. Shortly after, Kolisi was released into the same boma. There wasn’t a dry eye amongst the observers when Phil and Kolisi ran up to each other, making noises of joy as they were reunited. Before long, they were munching on grass and pellets provided by their incredible carer, Yolande.

There was great concern when Thula was released. Thula is totally blind and relies heavily on her sense of hearing to navigate the world. As soon as she was upright, the team removed her earplugs which seemed to calm her down as she relies greatly on her sense of hearing to navigate and understand the world. Guided by Dr Pierre, Yolande and the team, Thula gently and gingerly reversed out of the trailer and found her bearings in the new boma. Listening with trusting confidence to the voice of Yolande calling her to eat, she slowly made her way to the hay and pellets. With great relief, everyone watched as she began to eat, which is a sign of feeling settled and secure.

Where small things go, big love follows

The last morning proved to be bittersweet for many reasons. Although the team were excited to move to a spacious new “home”, they reflected with affection on where it all began. The last morning’s passengers were young rhinos; Duane, Robynne (a black rhino) and the diminutive Benji. Calling on previous experience and anticipating a degree of disruption, the team opted to tranquilise Robynne first. They were right to do so. As soon as the tranquiliser kicked in, Robynne started to run around the boma. With Yolande, volunteer Sarah and several grown men in hot pursuit, they tried to to corral Robynne into the trailer. Robynne literally gave them the runaround, but eventually, the group managed to direct her to the trailer crate.

Despite being “held upright” by several people, Duane had succumbed to his tranquiliser and had fallen into a deep sleep. The team guided him onto his side so that none of his limbs were compressed. Never has a sleeping rhino been so watched. The entire team and film crew watched as Duane lay dreaming of open, grassy plains and tasty pellets. Dr Pierre gave Duane medication to rouse him to his feet so that he could be led to his trailer. Duane was reluctant – as many sleepy souls are – but eventually, with the help of several people, they got him standing and gently guided him into the crate.

The last rhino to be immobilised was Benji. Only 2 months old and weighing just 90kgs, Benji is the size of a large dog. He was so excited to drink his beloved milk that he didn’t even notice when Dr Pierre gave him his tranquiliser. Once the medication kicked in, he was gently picked up by three men and placed on the hatchback boot of a 4×4 vehicle. Woozy and disorientated, Benji was reluctant to lie down. When he finally surrendered and reclined, he lent towards the exit of the vehicle and had to be bolstered in place by two men to prevent him from falling out. After some time, the team wrangled him into the correct position (on his side), and his carer Yolande watched closely over him as he sweetly snored.

Honour amongst great beasts

It was an honour to be of service to one of the planet’s most endangered and gracious species. Observing and participating in the translocation of the rhinos from The Rhino Orphanage was a true privilege. Seeing these massive, gentle giants treated with the love, reverence, and honour they deserve is a reminder that all life on the planet should be deeply respected. It was a moment of remembering the sentience of animals and of how much they enrich our life on earth.

Thank you to The Rhino Orphanage for including us in such an important event. We wish you all the best in your new home and can’t wait to visit again.


Wonderful Winelands of Petit-France


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