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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.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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