The Fundimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage (FTTRO) has taken drastic measures to ensure the safety of their staff and rhino orphans… as the reality hits that human lives are at risk, and police report an escalation of poaching attacks in South Africa.
The Orphanage experienced a brutal poaching attack in February that resulted in a horrific assault on staff and the tragic loss of two rhino calves, Gugu and Impi, that were both shot and their horns removed.
Since the attack, the facility has kept a relatively low public profile with their focus on the safety and wellbeing of the staff and volunteers, as well as the remaining animals on site.
In response to rumours about the orphanage facing closure, the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation (LAEO) directors – who manage the orphanage – say no decisions have yet been made.
CEO Yvette Taylor said: “It is clear that we are now dealing with the harsh reality of human lives being at risk.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that we meticulously weigh up all the factors of the investigation and then proceed with a course of action that is in the best interest of the safety of both staff and wildlife.”
She said an interim arrangement relocating the animals and staff has been done to give the team a chance to recover off-site, whilst giving management time to assess security, and allow investigations to run their course.
“This decision was not made in isolation but was taken as a result of advice from various experts and senior police officers who have warned against the real danger of a repeat attack,” said Taylor.
Two of the older, high risk orphans have been relocated back to the reserve they came from together with an interim handler to ensure continuity of care.
Both rhino were dehorned before the relocation and the horns removed from FTTRO premises under armed escort.
Reports indicate that both rhino are settling in their new environment and their rehabilitation program will continue for their eventual release back to the wild.
The mandate for decisions regarding the future of the facility will be decided by the Board of Directors of LAEO in consultation with the relevant stakeholders and will be done once the findings of the independent investigation have been reviewed.
Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation’s primary focus is ensuring that the facility is safe for both people and animals.
A crowd-funding campaign for the Thula Thula Rhino Fund (managed by Francoise Malby-Anthony and the African Conservation Trust) is aimed to fund increased security operations on Thula Thula Private Game Reserve.
According to a press release from the orphanage, the facility has two tiers of security (including anti-poaching patrols, fencing, guards and CCTV cameras) – both of which were breached during the attack.
Taylor said: “We never anticipated poaching would become so indiscriminate that calves in an orphanage would suffer casualties, or that the staff would be at risk.
“Police investigators commented on the escalation of attacks and how poachers were becoming more agile in terms of adjusting their strategy in accordance with the environment.
“The reality is that poaching has become increasingly violent, poachers brazen and any facility with rhino, a massive target.”
Shockingly the attack on FTTRO was just one of twelve poaching incidents in a 24-hour period in KwaZulu Natal.