When one hears names like Celiwe, Harry, Moya and Rita, you would not think these are names for rhinos, but at a reserve in the Eastern Cape, these prehistoric species are part of the family.
Another crucial member of this family is Cathy Dreyer, whose 18 years of experience in nature conservation, is assisting in protecting the endangered rhino.
“About 50% of my work centres around rhino management, which includes rhino monitoring, tracking and constantly keeping up-to-date with anti-poaching initiatives”, said Cathy.
“I fell in love with rhinos when working at the Addo National Park, where part of my job included capturing Rhinos for tracking and moving purposes and there we would place them in ‘bomas’ (wooden holding pens) prior to relocation and we would get them tame enough so that they could drink from a bottle and you could feed them by hand to avoid them being traumatised while being transported over long distances or treated for injuries,”
“When you boma-train rhinos you have to spend as much time as you can with them initially, as you are taking a completely wild animal, which has never been in a confined space and putting it in a little box. Here I often sit and read books out loud to them so they can get used to my voice and smell, sometimes I sleep outside the boma so they can smell that I am there with them – this has earned me the nickname of “Rhino Whisperer’”, added Cathy.
The continuous fight to protect South Africa’s rhinos has seen Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency staff like Cathy and her team focusing on areas like law enforcement, ensuring the infrastructure keeps poachers at bay. Cathy is also a qualified dog handler who uses her dog to track poachers.
“Rhinos are crucial for our ecosystem and even more critical for our tourism sector as they form part of the Big 5 – a major tourist attraction. At Volkswagen, we proud that our vehicles are being used to safeguard our most vulnerable wildlife species,” said Thomas Schaefer, Chairman and Managing Director of Volkswagen Group South Africa.
The six Volkswagen Amaroks are used in anti-poaching initiatives like rhino notching and monitoring and also training of field rangers.
“This R3-million sponsorship forms part of Volkswagen’s Corporate Social Investment and commitment to supporting people like Cathy safeguard South Africa’s national treasures,” added Schaefer.
The Forever Wild Rhino Protection Initiative was started by the Wilderness Foundation in 2011 as a response to the rhino poaching crisis and now, together with the Amaroks, are on the front line in the battle against rhino poaching.