Thandi the Rhino… an incredible story of hope and survival!

Thandi continues to amaze the world with her incredible fighting strength and miraculous recovery. She became the first rhino to ever survive a poaching attack.


Ness Knight is an explorer, conservationist and ocean advocate who has completed a diverse collection of expeditions in extreme environments around the globe.

In April 2018 she successfully completed a world first ‘source to sea’ descent of the Essquibo River in Guyana, the third largest river in South America. The expedition redefined modern exploration as Ness’s team pulled together an international collaboration with the indigenous Wai Wai tribe to locate the river’s source, something that has never before been found or documented.

Last year she explored the Namib Desert solo, traversing through the inhospitable lands in the remotest Northern regions to better understand the extraordinary people and wildlife that survive and thrive in this remote corner of the world.

And most recently, the incredible explorer spent the day in the Eastern Cape searching for Thandi, a Rhino with a heartbreaking story of hope and survival.

The privately owned Kariega Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa was subject to a number of brutal rhino poachings, the last incident being back in 2012 where 3 of their rhinos had been darted and their faces hacked for their horn.

One rhino died that night due to his injuries but two were found alive although somewhat disfigured. It was decided by vet Dr William Fowlds and Kariega Game reserve that the rhinos where to be given a reversal drug to wake them up and, thus, give them a chance.

“I never knew Thandi before 2 March 2012. So my initial contact with her mutilated body was gut-wrenching, but clinical, as we wrestled with tough decisions on that awful first day.

By that first evening, when we had done all we could for them, I had already witnessed something of the drive within her to stay alive and their situation broke my heart. I just sat in my vehicle and wept for them and all the other rhino out there who were being mutilated on a daily basis,” Dr William Fowlds explains.

The two rhinos were named Thandi (meaning Love in Xhosa), an adult female, and Themba (meaning Brave & Courageous), a young male. The team were led by Dr Fowlds, who treated the rhinos every few days out in the bush.

Whilst Thandi was showing significant improvement as the weeks went on, despite everything she had been through young, Themba slowly deteriorated. His facial injuries were not as bad as Thandi’s but sadly, due to the way he had fallen and laid during the poaching, the circulation in his leg had been cut off due to his sheer weight.

This sadly never came back and his back leg was suffering badly as a result. After each procedure, however, he would come back with such gusto but it was short lived and on the 25th March he was found lying dead in a watering hole. It was believed he just literally laid down, gave up and died. A sad day for so many involved, especially Dr Fowlds who had tried so desperately hard to give the young rhino a chance of survival.

“Survivors are so rare and so little was known at the time as to what other trauma the rhinos suffer when at the hands of the poachers. Despite Themba losing his battle for survival, it wasn’t in vain as more research was carried out after his death and has since helped other survivors.”

Thandi endured numerous operations since her attack, including pioneering skin graft surgery under the care of Dr Fowlds. In December 2013 blood tests after her last facial procedure revealed that she was pregnant. After waiting for many months, the team were overjoyed that she gave birth to a female calf on 13 January 2015. They called the calf Thembi, meaning hope in isiXhosa.

“The name Thembi seemed to fit best given that this little calf has brought fresh hope and energy to those who struggle to secure the future of our rhino. She is a new generation of life, one I hope will never experience a poaching incident like her mother and namesake Themba,” commented Dr Fowlds when she was named.

Thandi surprised the team again in January 2017 when she gave birth to another calf. The male rhino calf was born on 24 January 2017 and named Colin in memory of the visionary and founder of Kariega, Colin Rushmere. He passed just days before the rhino was born.

Thandi continues to amaze the world with her incredible fighting strength and miraculous recovery. She became the first rhino to ever survive a poaching attack. Her story spread around the world and has inspired many people to get involved in rhino conservation.

“From that dark and desperate place it is almost inconceivable that six years later she is not only alive but living life with two babies by her side.

This is such a victory for all those amazing people from local and far flung places who joined the South Africa and got behind her rocky road to recovery.”

After Thandi and Themba were poached, Kariega was flooded with requests to contribute to the medical care of these two survivors. In response to this overwhelming support the Kariega Foundation created a special fund dedicated to the rehabilitation and care of rhino.

Since then they have been blessed with incredible support from so many amazing people. Most of their efforts are now geared towards anti-poaching on the reserve and trying as best we can to continue protecting our rhino.

To get involved in any way, click here.

Sources: Ness KnightKariega Game Reserve 
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