A baby rhino named Gertjie was rescued after poachers killed his mother. Now, he's thriving.

Rhino poaching has nearly wiped out the entire species. But the stories of the ones left behind should stay with us.

There once was a baby rhino named Gertjie.

A video of him snuggling up to his keeper at a South African rehab center is popping up all over the Internet.


Clip via Pick n Pay on YouTube

Before ending up here, however, he spent his days roaming the South African landscape with his mother, doing the things rhinos do. Eating. Taking mud baths. Creating massive piles of dung. Loving life.

But one day, out of the blue, his mother was murdered in front of him by poachers, her horn savagely cut away to be sold on the black market.

Rescuers from the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center (HESC) found Gertjie hiding by his mother's body and crying. They sedated him and took him back to their headquarters, where they worked to treat and nourish him.

Though in good physical health, Gertjie refused to sleep alone. He cried relentlessly. So HESC staff took turns sleeping with him. Soothing him.

Over time, Gertjie began to heal.

He bonded with his caretakers.

Then (May 2014) and Now (Jan 2015). 💛Our young Gertjie has come a long way... But that special connection with Adine Roode remains as strong. He has grown a lot in just short of 8 months, don't you think? 😊 #hesc #hoedspruitendangeredspeciescentre #kapama #southafrica #wildlifeconservation #rehabilitation #gertjietherhino #whiterhino #rhino #rhinocalf #stoppoaching #stoprhinopoaching #time #growth #love #bond #trust
A photo posted by HoedspruitEndangeredSpeciesCtr (@hesc_endangeredspeciescentre) on

He became best friends with a sheep named Lammie.

Clip via HESC on YouTube

And, eventually, Gertjie became famous.

As his story spread, he became the face of the rhino preservation effort. Some even anointed him the face of the entire anti-poaching movement.


Image from One Green Planet.

What's sad is that there's seemingly a new Gertjie every couple of months.

First, in 2012, there was this four-month-old black rhino rescued by the Entabeni Safari Conservancy.

Photo by Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images.

Then, there was this little one, found dehydrated and near death, cowering in the shade of a car passing through Kruger National Park before being rescued by Care for Wild Africa.

Not long after Gertjie, there was Matimba, rescued after his mother, too, was murdered for her horn.

‪#‎Matimba‬ posing for the camera to show off his 'good' side. ‪#‎HESC‬ ‪#‎Rhino‬ #instasize #loves_southafrica #meetsouthafrica # jaguar_paws
A photo posted by HoedspruitEndangeredSpeciesCtr (@hesc_endangeredspeciescentre) on

Different orphaned rhinos gone viral. Same sad story.

Here's what's even sadder:

The rate of rhino killings has actually been going UP since around 2007.

Chart from Save the Rhino International with data from the DEA

Today, the black rhino is critically endangered. Ditto for the Sumatran rhino and the Javan rhino. And the northern white rhino? There's only three of them left. One male, two females.

As awful as all of this is, there is a sliver of hope.

There is a ton of amazing stuff being done right now to combat rhino poaching. From Google pitching in with state-of-the-art tech, to a new start-up that's disrupting the black market with 3D printed rhino horns.

Image from Arvind Gupta/Twitter.

But fighting rhino poaching is a battle that has to happen on two fronts.

While we're protecting the remaining living rhinos with technology, innovation, and even force, we need to combat the perceptions behind the poaching culture that endangers them — namely, that powder made from their horns is capable of curing cancer, arthritis, fevers, malaria, snake bites, and a whole host of ailments. This is why, according to The Atlantic, a severed rhino head can fetch as much as $300,000 in parts of Vietnam.

Rhinos aren't mythical beasts with divine healing powers. They're vulnerable. They bleed. They need love and friendship.

Spreading this reality is exactly why stories like Gertjie's matter.

So watch this video of Gertjie cuddling up to one of his keepers, which is just the latest piece of orphaned rhino inspiration to take over the Internet. Feel the feels. Share it with your friends.

Then, ask yourself: How many orphaned rhinos need to go viral before we stamp out poaching for good?

The answer?

As many as it takes.

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