She's Mercedes - Care For Wild Rhino Sanctuary

Siren Forever photographed, interviewed and co-produced a feature for the Mercedes-Benz initiative She's Mercedes with K-MB. We traveled to South Africa to meet Petronel Nieuwoudt. The following article first appeared on She's Mercedes.

If you would like to support Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary by donating or volunteering, please visit the project's website.

A four hour drive with the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé takes us from Johannesburg into South Africa's wilderness. This is where we meet up with Petronel Nieuwoudt, founder of Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary: the world's biggest shelter for orphaned rhinoceroses.

Away from roads and tracks, in the midst of breathtaking landscapes, we make our way to a secret location in the deep north east of South Africa. This is the hidden site of Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, a unique animal protection zone near the Kruger National Park, a region known for its many colourful animal species. It is the only one of its kind in the entire province of Mpumalanga.

Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary was founded in 2001 by Petronel Nieuwoudt who devotes her life to rescuing and protecting orphaned and injured rhinos and other wild animals. She grew up on a farm in this area and has a lifetime of experience as an animal welfarist.

Ever since she was a little girl, Nieuwoudt would bring sick or injured animals home to nurse them back to health. Her passion for animals eventually took her to the South African Police Endangered Species Unit, which she had managed for many years.

Her passion led her to found her own animal conservation project: Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, and ever since then, she has been the first point of call the minute an abandoned, orphaned or injured animal is found in the region. Nieuwoudt's main focus is saving rhinos – as they often fall victim to poachers.

The horn is falsely believed to have healing properties and to increase potency. As most species of rhino are threatened with extinction, their horns are often regarded as a status symbol and even an investment object. The life of the animals is often in critical condition. In particular young animals are often found in a helpless and traumatized state if their mothers have become the victims of poachers – which is a common occurrence in the region. The injured or orphaned rhinos are found by gamekeepers. The animal is then brought to the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, where Nieuwoudt and her team take care of it.

As the rhinos are often in shock after being injured and separated from their mothers, getting close to them can often require a great deal of patience: in order to gain the rhino's trust, the person looking after them has to invest a lot of time and effort in taking away the animal's fear and helping it to become acquainted with their new circumstances. Once the animal feels safer and secure in the presence of the 'surrogate mother', it can gradually be given contact with other species in order to slowly prepare it for re-release into the wild. Prior to the release, its horns are carefully removed in order to protect it against further attacks from poachers.

Nieuwoudt and her team are passionately dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and returning animals to their original habitat. None of this works without her team: Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary can only exist because it has lots of volunteer helpers and patrons; people who offer their time or financial support for animal rescue. Through additional donations such as diesel, milk or uniforms and blankets for the guards, Nieuwoudt can ensure the smooth day-to-day running of the organization and the rescue of threatened animals.1512345

The South African succeeds in managing the balancing act of the transfer of knowledge, administrative work, dedication, security management and staff leadership. With a two-way radio in her hand, she manages her rehabilitation centre and sanctuary with the heart of a lioness.

The biggest reward, the greatest triumph for her is the moment at which a recovered animal is released back into its natural environment. As soon as a rehabilitated rhino has been prepared for life in the wild, as soon as it can survive alone again, releasing it is the sole aim. The joy of successfully returning a healthy animal to its original habitat reaffirms the importance of the project each and every time.

If you would like to support Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary by donating or volunteering, please visit the project's website.