After an incredible Women’s Month weekend spent at a Rhino Orphanage with a group of ladies from all walks of life, I decided I had to share this fantastic experience.

Our followers will know that Blue Velvet supports Rhino conservation and one of the experiences we offer is RhinoMoon – Boots on the Ground.  This is an experience in collaboration with Rhino Connect, a registered NPO we work closely with that supports rhino owners in several ways.

What is RhinoMoon?

RhinoMoon takes place on full moon weekends when the rhino are most vulnerable because the light of the moon is so bright, you can see everything clearly and you even cast a shadow.

Clients spend two nights on a private reserve learning just what it takes to protect the rhino, directly from the owner, participating in various fun activities, meeting new people, spending time around the boma fire and of course, spending time with rhino. Over these weekends, the biggest contribution our guests make to conservation is just being present on the reserve, over the full moon period. Increased human presence on the reserve discourages informants to share information on the whereabouts of the rhino as there is too much activity.

RhinoMoon with a Difference

With August being Women’s Month in South Africa, the August RhinoMoon was super special for several reasons. The August RhinoMoon took place at a private rhino orphanage that does not open to the public.

Although it was a working volunteer weekend in that we committed to repaint the orphanage building, scrub down the ICU (yes these orphans can be very ill when they arrive), and do a general tidy up around the place.  If you ask any of the ladies that attended, their universal response would be “what work?” We started off the weekend on Friday afternoon checking into a nearby lodge.  The 18 ladies were spoiled with gifts in their rooms kindly sponsored by Rhino Connect supporters and the adventure began.

Heading out to the reserve, there was great excitement and once on the property we were in awe at the number of rhinos we saw.  Little did we know how much more there was to come. We stopped at the main house and climbed aboard a truck with covered hay bales as seating and were driven to the lake for sun-downers and a cruise with the resident hippos frolicking and doing what hippos do.

Along the way we passed groups of rhinos with their calves.  We had a few inquisitive ones that they ran after us following the truck.  You would be surprised at how fast they can run. When we arrived we were met by owner, a living legend, and his team including his adorable Jack Russel dogs.  He shared stories of his journey, the joys and the challenges, all with a beautiful sunset as the backdrop.  The evening ended with a sumptuous barbeque and great conversation and more stories.

Meeting the Calves

After an early breakfast it was off to the reserve again.  There was great anticipation because we were now going to meet the babies.  We were not disappointed.

The first little ones we met were a month old.  The calves need company so there are always two in an enclosure.  Just like human babies, they have their comfort blanket, love to be loved and are fed every 3 hours, after which they go to sleep. There were approximately 35 orphans, thankfully not due to poaching, but rather that their moms either rejected them or they had health issues.

The “house mother” explained that each calf has its own character, likes and dislikes and just like children, there are the sweet angels and the cheeky ones with big personalities. By the end of the weekend we understood exactly what she meant.

Feeding Time

A young rhino gets fed every 3 hours and we discovered that one of the closest relatives to rhino, is the horse which is why they can be fed on foals’ milk with supplements that are added to it. How’s that for file 13!  And to keep the peace the companion calves must be fed together, and you don’t remove the bucket bottle until they are both finished.

There was one cute pair that every time they were fed. as soon as you walked away, the two of them would cry.    Which brings me to the sound that the calves make.

What does a rhino calf sound like?

I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t what I heard.  I was completely surprised and delighted when I heard it.  They sound like dolphins.  That’s the only way I can describe the sweet little sound that they make when they anticipate being fed, want something or when our two friends finished their milk and you had to walk away.

Chop & Chop

Not all calves come in two by two, so in step Chop and Chop, the two sheep that have their own rhino calves that they take care of.  Sheep are great companions and it’s adorable how the two species bond.

The real work

After the excitement of meeting the babies, learning about their food and meeting a student doing research on developing rhino milk, and then feeding them, we came down to earth and started on the earning our keep part of the weekend.  Repainting the building, scrubbing down the ICU and general tidying up.

I can tell you, there is nothing as formidable as a group of women with an objective.  We got stuck in and scraped, sanded, filled and painted the outside.  We washed, scrubbed, disinfected, unpacked and packed the inside.  We thought it would take ages, but we were done by the afternoon. Girl Power!

A herd of rhino

As a reward, we all piled onto the back of a trailer carrying rhino food which was hooked behind a tractor.  and joined in the feeding of one of the herds.

It’s difficult to conceive a herd of rhino when in the parks, all you ever see is either a single animal or two or three at the most.  They were everywhere, like a herd of cows.  The interesting thing is, until man intervened, this is how rhino lived.  In herds. It was incredible being so close that you could reach out and touch them.

Big brother is watching

After an early night, much needed after a day of high emotion and physical labour, we headed back to the reserve to feed the calves and meet the security team. You hear about the war against rhino poaching, until you see the technology, manpower and equipment that it takes to keep them safe, I don’t think you can really understand what is meant when you hear that it is a war.

We all left the security command center troubled.  Unable to reconcile the two sides of the innocent creatures we had spent the previous 24 hours with, and the high-tech military like technology that has to protect them 24 hours a day, from the brutality of poaching.

Ending our weekend on a high note, we did a last feed and one of the team painted a beautiful mural of a rhino and her calf.

We arrived as strangers and left as friends with a deeper knowledge that empowers us to step up and do what we can to protect our rhino. 

It’s an honour and a privilege to work with Rhino Connect on an ongoing basis providing our clients the opportunity to experience conservation from the other side of the fence, helping them make a difference.

Gillian

For RhinoMoon and other experiences email us on info@bluevelvetevents.co.za