Named Themba and Thandiswa, the two rhinos were de-horned with machetes and left for dead by poachers on 2 March, and they have been fighting for survival since. A third rhino died as a result of injuries sustained shortly after the attack.
Kariega Game Reserve has since been using Facebook as a platform to post updates on the treatment of the rhinos, and appeal for help and support. With daily updates on the rhinos' condition from wildlife veterinarian Dr William Fowlds, the Kariega Facebook page has become a timeline of the rhinos' struggle.
As a result of the outpouring of sympathy following the initial updates, Kariega launched the “Help Save Our Rhino Fund” on Facebook, dedicated solely to the rehabilitation of Themba and Thandi.
Online marketing manager for Kariega, Lisa Mills, says: “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.” She believes that Facebook has driven the bulk of the fund's donations so far.
The game reserve's page analytics also shot up from 150 people “talking about” its stories, to over 2 000. According to Mills, viral reach also went from 1 179 to 17 247. “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.”
It is estimated that the total cost of the treatment and rehabilitation of the two surviving rhinos (expected to be at least two months of intensive intervention and care) could exceed R250 000. Mills says the rescue efforts have been helped a great deal by the Forever Wild campaign of the Wilderness Foundation, which allows for people to donate easily online via PayPal.
A full log of updates from Fowlds is also stored on the Kariega blog, in order to provide those who are interested with a comprehensive overview of the situation. Kariega and Fowlds also released video footage of the struggling rhinos and published it on YouTube.
A personal tribute video created by the Kariega game rangers titled 'United We Stand' has also been widely shared across the social networks and already reached almost 10 000 views since its release, and hundreds of shares on Facebook alone.
Recent reports have estimated that rhinos will be wiped out of South African game reserves by 2015 if poaching continues at the current rate. While social media campaigns to raise awareness about the rhino poaching crisis have become increasingly prevalent and graphic, Mills says the Kariega campaign is unique for a number of reasons.
“Yes, we are posting another devastating image of a poached rhino, but these rhino are still alive, struggling for their lives and you can help.
“People become despondent and disinterested if they cannot do anything. I think it might have been different if we hadn't given people a means of contributing directly to [Themba and Thandi's] care and veterinary expenses.”
Mills believes that through Themba and Thandi's story, people are being informed and educated on the broader issues surrounding rhino poaching because of their deep attachment to the struggle of the two survivors.
According to Mills, the fate of the rhino rests firmly with the global community's ability to prompt national and international bodies into action. “In the war against rhino poaching, we constantly encourage our followers to be a part of a global awareness campaign – share the story, sign the online petition, e-mail your friends.
“Just judging by the support Kariega has received as a result of people doing those things, I cannot overstate how powerful these seemingly trivial actions can be.”
To contribute to the fund to save Themba and Thandi, individuals or organisations can choose from the following mechanisms:
Direct payment via EFT to the Kariega Foundation Trust
First National Bank
Account no: 62275606526
Branch: Newton Park
Branch code: 261050
Reference: Thandi and Themba
PayPal payment via the Forever Wild initiative by following the links on the Wilderness Foundation site.
To make a donation via credit card, download and complete the credit card authorisation form and e-mail to email@example.com or fax to +27 41 581 2601.