Gertjie and Matimba’s extraordinary journeys both started with absolute heartache and sadness, but five-years later continue with hope, pride, love and best of all, freedom.
Their stories caught the world’s attention and then stole their hearts too.
In 2014, South Africa’s Southern White Rhino population lost 1 215 precious rhinos to the heartless crime of rhino poaching. Rhino poaching statistics had grown steadily since the early 2000s, but 2014 was the worst year to date and it was during this year that the world started to take note of the severity of the crisis we faced.
It was also at this time that Gertjie’s mother was brutally attacked for her horn, right in front of her son. He was left to fend for himself, all alone, a rhino calf barely three months old, without his beloved mother and his vital lifeline.
Gertjie was found within a few hours of the attack, next to his mother’s lifeless body. He was one of the ‘lucky’ ones; many rhino calves that are orphaned due to rhino poaching perish or are killed by predators.
He was brought into our care at HESC shortly after and it was then that the world got to learn about this brave little rhino and started following his journey with his famous sidekick, Lammie the sheep, and another orphaned rhino that we named Matimba.
Let’s look back at the timeline of their journey at HESC:
7 May 2014 – The terrible day that a baby rhino was found next to his mother’s dead boy. The Provet team brought him into our care.
22 July 2014 – Gertjie, as we named him, was strong and doing well and weighing in at 200 kg.
4 August 2014 – Gertjie meets Lammie, a hand-reared Pedi lamb who became a faithful companion for him over the next couple of years. So many people fell in love with their unusual, yet beautiful friendship.
19 November 2014 – Matimba, another orphaned rhino calf is rescued, having suffered the same horrible fate that Gertjie had experienced just six months earlier. It was evident that his mother and he were enjoying a mud bath together when the fatal attack occurred. He was approximately one month old and weighed just 60 kg.
December 2015 – Gertjie was introduced to Matimba, it was a comical introduction, but they soon settled down and started to form a brotherly bond.
Gertjie naturally took on the role of Matimba’s older brother; it seemed as though they both understood one another’s painful experience right from the beginning. There was a melancholic sweetness about their relationship.
May 2015 – Their friendship and often funny antics kept the world entertained. These two baby bulls kept going from strength to strength.
It was clear from the start that Matimba was not comfortable around humans; he would choose to spend time as far away from our caretakers as possible. Gertjie, on the other hand, would always make a B-line towards any human company, though this tendency has diminished over time.
22 September 2015 – Gertjie was officially weaned, meaning he would no longer rely only on a milk diet to sustain him. He started grazing, with lucerne as a supplement, to ensure that he received all the nutrition he needed to stay healthy.
January 2016 – We slowly introduced Gertjie and Matimba to two other orphans that were brought to us, namely Stompie and Balu. At first, we placed them in adjacent camps and did the official introduction on 26 January, which went well, but we continued to keep them apart.
30 April 2016 – It was now Matimba’s turn to be weaned.
May 2016 – Gertjie and Matimba become the ‘big brothers of HESC’, as the number of rescued orphans brought to HESC increased in early 2016 with the arrival of Olivia, Nhlanhla, Muddy (who sadly did not survive) and Khulula.
22 June 2016 – Gertjie and Matimba were moved to their own larger section of land to reduce human contact and to create a more natural environment, an essential step in their rehabilitation.
23 September 2016 – Rhino poaching survivor, Philippa, joined Gertjie and Matimba in their dedicated area at HESC and a new friendship ensued.
February 2017 – Ike, another poaching survivor, joined Gertjie, Matimba and Philippa. We were not sure how it would play out, with Ike being an older male, but there was no hostility. Philippa and Ike struck up a close bond.
November 2017 – We decided to move Gertjie and Matimba in with Lion’s Den and Dingle Dell, two other rhino poaching survivors. This was due to Philippa and Ike preferring their own company and not interacting with Gertjie and Matimba
December 2018 – Lion’s Den and Dingle Dell were successfully released back into the wild and this left Gertjie and Matimba on their own again.
May 2019 – We moved Gertjie and Matimba back into Philippa and Ike’s area to see if they could strike up a relationship. However, Gertjie and Matimba preferred their own company and were moved back into their previous enclosure.
June 2019 – After consultation and on the advice of our veterinary board, we decided that Gertjie and Matimba were ready to be released back into the wild, where they belong. They would go to a reserve with excellent anti-poaching resources and security in place.
Five years after arriving at HESC, these fully rehabilitated, robust, confident and strong rhino bulls were able to sustain themselves; our job was done and they were ready to start their new journey, their second chance at life.
The big day arrived and the longstanding supporters of our rescued rhino project, Investec Rhino Lifeline, joined us to experience and document the momentous occasion.
Looking back, it has been the most incredible journey for these two survivors, with too many people for us to thank in one post. The fact is that we could never have done this alone, not without the funding from companies and individuals, and the support and donations from our fantastic followers from all around the world who have continued to support and follow Gertjie and Matimba’s five-year journey at HESC from victims to victors. Thank you.
By releasing these two rehabilitated orphaned rhinos, the chance of their procreation is greater and it follows our conservation ethos at HESC to release animals back into the wild, whether born in captivity or rehabilitated after trauma, provided they are able to sustain themselves.
Fortunately, the rhino-poaching statistics in South Africa have seen a steady decline since they peaked in 2014. In 2018, a total of 769 rhinos were poached in comparison to the 1 215 in 2014. This is no doubt due to the sustained and significant efforts of many committed organisations and anti-poaching units that have increased substantially over these years. But, we must continue to win this war. Please continue to support those that put their lives on the line to protect our rhinos
Our entire team would also like to say a special thank you to all of our followers that shared likes, comments, motivation words, encouragement, and love for Gertjie and Matimba’s journey on social media.
We look forward to updating you on Gertjie and Matimba’s progress in the wild.
Thank you from all of us at HESC.
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