The Story of Hope


 

Article and photography provided by Saving The Survivors

Hope, the rhino who has become the face of all poaching survivors

Towards the end of April 2015, at the Lombardini Game Reserve, nestled between St Francis Bay and Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape, a four-year-old rhino cow was viciously attacked by poachers. After darting her, they hacked off both her horns and left her for dead. Badly mutilated, the young rhino wandered around in a daze, hiding in the bushes for four days and five nights.

Hope’s horrific injuries shocked everyone

When she was eventually found, rescuers were sickened to see that part of her face, nasal passages, and sinus cavities had been exposed, while several bones were also fractured. It was one of the most brutal poaching attacks since the rhino poaching scourge began. How could she possibly survive this? A decision was made by veterinary experts that the rhino, who had been named Hope, could be saved. She was moved to the rehabilitation centre at the Shamwari Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth.

Hope’s first surgery took place mid-May 2015; Saving The Survivors (STS) was called in to assist. Dr Johan Marais, CEO of STS, described the 50cm by 30cm wound as “one of the worst injuries” that he had ever worked on. The wound was cleaned, maggots removed, and an artificial fibreglass cast was put in place for protection. This process continued over the next couple of months. And Hope just kept on going – this rhino had an incredible will to live. By now, the eyes of the world were on her too – Hope’s story had captured hearts everywhere.

In August, the indomitable rhino’s wound was reassessed. A new protective shield made of elephant hide (which was grown in a lab), thought to be strong but still supple enough, was to be applied. Unfortunately, the feisty rhinoceros once again removed the wound protection – this after kudu skin (wire tore through it) and hippo skin (too thick) were tried unsuccessfully. After the latest procedure, Hope was moved to a new enclosure at Shamwari. 

Healing Hope

In March 2016, the now five-year-old Hope was moved to a wildlife facility just outside Bela Bela in the Limpopo Province so that she would be nearer to the STS team and the specialist treatment that she would need on her road to recovery. The challenge remained to close the gaping wound. It simply wasn’t healing on its own, which posed an ongoing risk of infection and maggot infestations, among other things.

Thanks to all the innovative procedures, just a couple of months later, in May – a year after the attack – the wound had reduced by as much as two thirds. The latest procedure had been the Abdominal Re-approximation Anchor System (ABRA), specially made elastic bands from a Canadian company, Southmedic. The bands are designed for human patients who have received abdominal surgery; stretched across Hope’s gaping facial wound, they acted like shoelaces, steadily pulling skin on both sides closer together. The idea is that, once the wound is smaller, a wound matrix with collagen can be applied so that the skin cells can grow together and close the wound.

Hope’s wound had closed even more since the ABRA strips were applied but she remained annoyed by the dressings and kept rubbing them off against the boma’s fence. The STS team, however, would not give up; they applied a glue-on version of ABRA as it was thought to be less irritating. A plan was then put in place to move Hope to a bigger enclosure with orphaned rhino calves and more natural surroundings.

Giving Hope to the future

The treatment on her wound is continuing and various methods are being investigated to secure a permanent covering. Amazingly, Hope remains in excellent condition, eating and drinking well, and her wound is continuing to heal. It even seems that a little back horn has started to grow, although this may have to be removed at some point because her face isn’t strong enough to carry the weight of a full-sized horn. Hope is still a feisty, sometimes grumpy, rhinocerus, and sometimes gets agitated when humans come too close to the boma fence.

This is indeed one very special rhino; Hope has become the face of all poaching survivors. She wasn’t the first and sadly won’t be the last, but, through her relentless will to survive, she has given credence to what Saving the Survivors stands for: Creating Hope from Hurt.

Saving the Survivors is a non-profit company (NPC) founded in 2012 to help injured endangered wildlife which have fallen victim to poaching or other traumatic incidents. Whilst STS will attend to the needs of any animal surviving a poaching incident, most of their efforts are focused on rhinos, given the vicious attacks many of them have fallen victim to. STS is an initiative of Elephants, Rhinos & People (ERP), a non-government organisation founded to preserve and protect Southern Africa’s wild elephants and rhinos.

For more information, visit www.savingthesurvivors.org, and follow them on Facebook at “Saving The Survivors – NPC”  www.facebook.com/savingthesurvivors, Twitter @savingsurvivors, and Instagram @savingthesurvivors. To find out more, contact Liryn de Jager on 082 856 1358 or at liryn@savingthesurvivors.org or liryndej@hotmail.com