Late February in South Africa, two poachers broke into the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage, held the staff captive, and brutally shot two 18-month-old white rhinos just before viciously sawing off their horns. They fled the scene, leaving one rhino dead from a fatal gunshot wound and the other severely incapacitated, later put to rest by the orphanage due to sustained injuries.
Karen Trendler, director of the orphanage, expressed her devastation on the account of the horrendous heist in an interview on Facebook Live, “As a rhino person whose rehabilitating rhinos in this poaching crisis, you think that your worst fear is that one of the rhinos that you’re working on is going to be shot or injured or killed. …That worst nightmare was realized … it’s just beyond comprehension.”
The ‘worst nightmare’ started just two hours before the fatality. The poachers first infiltrated the orphanage targeting the security guard and holding them hostage. They later gathered the rest of the team at gunpoint. The unarmed team was no match for the intruding poachers who threateningly waved guns in their faces.
Less than a week before the incident, both baby rhinos’ parents also fell victim to the gruesome reality of poaching in South Africa. One of the baby rhinos “stayed at his mother’s carcass for six days, moving away just a short distance to eat … because he was obviously very hungry and very thirsty,” before being rescued by the orphanage, said Trendler in an interview.
Shot, dehorned, and left for dead is the vicious cycle rhinos face due to the recent demand of rhino horns in Asian countries. According to Save the Rhino, in some Asian countries, like Vietnam, they use the horns for medicinal reasons and to reflect the success or social status of an individual.
As an attempt to save the animals’ lives, conservationist will often dehorn rhinos that are scheduled to be readmitted back into wildlife. Unfortunately, these two baby rhinos never had the chance to make it back home to the wild.