Helping orphaned rhino find their way

Rampant poaching in South Africa leaves young rhino without mothers, and specialized orphanages fill the void

Walk into conservationist Karen Odendaal's rhino orphanage at feeding time, and you'll find 7-month-old, 400-pound rhinoceros, Ntoto, eagerly consuming 4 liters of milk in what seems like an instant. It is a carefully concocted batch of formula—a mix of glucose, milk powder, probiotic, and water—heated to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit to mimic the temperature his mother's milk would have been, had she not been killed by poachers.

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Home to multiple orphaned rhino—and an abandoned hippopotamus named Charlie who apparently believes he is a rhino—Odendaal's facility is dedicated to the care and feeding of its animals, but the challenge is protecting them from poachers. Odendaal also runs a game reserve and says that "about 75% of our expenses go just towards security and protecting the animals--rhinos, in particular."

Her efforts are not unjustified: The three rhino currently in her care were transferred from another orphanage which had lost young to a poaching attack.   

While there can be no substitute for a calf's mother, "we try very hard," Megan Lategan, the orphanage's manager, explains to 60 Minutes. The orphanage, and others like it, plays an essential role in battling South Africa's poaching crisis, a story 60 Minutes has been following all year.

In December, the broadcast reported on the phenomenon of "flying rhino:" airlifting endangered rhino to new locations to help protect them from poachers. This week, 60 Minutes follows up with a story about a controversial alternative—raising rhino on farms and selling their horns legally in South Africa—aiming to price poachers out of business.

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Although rhino horn is primarily composed of keratin—the same material as our fingernails —it is a popular folk medicine in Asia, thought to enhance virility. With wealthy buyers in Vietnam and China willing to pay a premium for the animal's horn, South African rhinoceroses are being poached at a rate of three a day to meet market demand, leaving many rhino calves motherless, reports 60 Minutes.

Producing team Henry Schuster and Rachael Morehouse traveled to South Africa recently with correspondent Lara Logan to report on the plight of the rhino. Morehouse recalls hearing story after story in the field "where the mom has been poached and she's dying, or she's dead on the ground, and her baby will just stay by her," she explains. "They've had to create these orphanages to really deal with the babies and getting them back into the wild and growing up without their mom."

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On patrol against poachers

CBS News

It is South Africa's rangers who are on the front lines of the fight to protect the rhino, patrolling at night, armed, though still at great personal risk. There have been firefights between gangs of poachers and field rangers hired to protect the orphanages, says 60 Minutes producer Henry Schuster. "People have been killed—on both sides."

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Mfundisi Ntanzi, who monitors endangered rhino, speaks to 60 Minutes

CBS News

Mfundisi Ntanzi, responsible for monitoring every rhinoceros at a game park in South Africa, knows the danger of poachers—not only to the animals, but to their protectors—all too well.  "I know if they catch me, they're going to kill me," he explains.  And yet, he understands how the international demand for rhino horn, paired with too few job opportunities at home, leads to poaching. "People know the value or what they can get for the horn, and they end up doing it out of desperation," he says.

The emotional toll of poaching on those left to deal with its aftermath, including rangers and wildlife veterinarians like Dave Cooper, can be too great to bear at times. "That's the hardest part about it," says Cooper. "You do sometimes have to make that call that this animal's going to die despite anything that you can do for it.  And it's better to end its life—painlessly."

"I've seen many a grown man cry," says Cooper. "You give a rifle to a tough guy ranger. His job is to protect those animals, and now you're asking him to shoot one."

To learn more about rhino conservation efforts, visit the sites below:

WWF: https://wwf.org/60minutesrhino and 1-800-960-0993

RHINO ORPHANAGE: www.zululandconservationtrust.org

DAVE COOPER: http://www.africanwildlifevets.org/