A record 448 endangered rhinos were poached for their horns in South Africa last year, and while 2012 is already on track to exceed that grim toll, conservationists have turned to the internet in hopes of reducing that figure by two.
Earlier this month, the quiet tranquillity of South Africa's Kariega Game Reserve was shattered when poachers horrifically attacked three white rhinos under cover of darkness, hacking off their horns and leaving them to suffer a slow and painful death. While one of the animals succumbed to its wounds shortly after, the other two, named Thandi and Themba, somehow managed to survive the night.
"I have never heard of three animals getting poached and two surviving at least the initial stages," said one reserve officer who arrived at the scene to help. "When I saw him, I though 'wow, he must be in such agony.'"
Here's footage from the morning after the poaching attack as rescuers assess the animals' injuries.
Although Thandi and Themba have already beaten the odds by living through the typically fatal attacks, their longer-term survival is bound to be an uphill battle. Officials from Kariega have enlisted the help of veterinarian Dr. William Fowlds, a renowned rhino caregiver, to oversee the rhinos' recovery which, despite the expertise care, has yet to be assured.
While Dr. Fowlds and his team continue to care for the brutalized animals, the reserve's online marketing manager Lisa Mills has turned to the power of social media for broader support from the public. In the days following the poaching attack, Kariega dedicated a Facebook page to document the struggle of Thandi and Themba are facing, and to receive donations towards the animals' estimated $33,000 medical expenses.
“The suffering of these animals has been made very public and personal. It makes sense that people will want to donate directly to the care of Thandi and Themba," Mills tells South Africa's ITWeb.
So far, the social media push seems to be working; in just the last few weeks, the Facebook page has gained thousands of followers and helped raise funds for Thandi and Themba's recovery.
“From this growth we do feel that people are taking notice, if nothing else. We have had many donations from private people and organisations – the campaign has probably reached a half way mark in terms of the estimated healthcare costs,” says Mills.
Conservationists say that around 120 rhinos have been killed in the first two-and-a-half months of this year alone, putting 2012 on track to becoming the worst year of poaching on record. While it seems as though these appalling figures and the wide-spread discrediting of rhino horns as medicine seems to have done little to curb the slaughter, those working to save Thandi and Themba hope the animals' needlessly marred faces will help stir greater involvement towards the conservation of their species.
Few conservationist causes are more worthy of garnering support across the internet and elsewhere, particularly given the entirely avoidable fate poachers are ushering rhinos headlong into. In fact, experts predict that without a dramatic shift in trends, South African rhinos could be extinct as early as 2015.
Earlier this month, Thandi and Themba experienced firsthand what horrors can be brought about by a small band of poachers -- now perhaps its time to show what good the rest of us are capable of.