Ol Pejeta ranger Zacharia Mutai (Zach) has never had the opportunity to visit another country, or fly in an airplane. Little did he know when he first became a rhino caregiver that his dedication to the species he loves so much would one day lead him to the other end of the continent — flown in as a sign of appreciation and recognition of his services to conservation.
Zacharia was invited to Durban, South Africa by Project Rhino, who had organised a busy itinerary that aimed to give Zach an audience with young people, corporates and fellow conservationists to inspire, share and learn. His visit was generously funded by Dancing for Rhinos.
Zach hit the ground running, addressing more than 1,400 children at Tinley Manor Primary School on the first day. He then spoke to over 200 business proffesionals at the Pavillion Hotel during a gala evening, where he shared the groundbreaking work Ol Pejeta and partners are undertaking with northern white rhinos, including the promisisng possibility of IVF.
“I loved travelling to South Africa and meeting new people. The audience seemed really interested in this IVF work, most of them had no idea how desperate the situation is for northern white rhinos, and how advanced the technology is that could save them,” says Zach.
Keen to show Zach some South African rhino conservation in action, the team then took him to Imfolizi Park, where he met orphan rhinos being prepared for rerelease into the wild, and got the chance to speak to fellow rangers on the ground. While Ol Pejeta employs dogs to support ranger teams, Imfolizi employs horses – vital in helping scouts cross vast and rugged terrain. The equine team is a collaboration between Project Rhino and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
“It was so interesting to meet the horse patrol team” says Zach, “I really enjoyed learning about how other rangers do their jobs, and horses are such a low-cost, green solution to covering big distances!”
After a game drive and a visit to Mthembu Lodge, situated in a community conservancy adjascent to Imfolizi Park, it was time for Zach to head back to Durban. Here, Zach addressed children in four more primary schools, talking to them about the tricky topic of extinction, and why it matters. He shared his intimate personal stories of life with the last northern white rhinos in the world, along with videos and still images, which captured the children’s imagination.
A visit to Kariega Game Reserve offered Zach the chance to meet and talk with anti-poaching rangers, accompanying them on rhino foot patrol. “It was almost the same as what we do here in Ol Pejeta” recalls Zach, “but their rhinos had transmitters in their horns to make them easy to track!”
Then it was off to Pretoria for a fundraising event with Dancing for Rhinos. This annual event, started by Tanya and Gérard West, was inspired by Thandi, the rhino who made global headlines when she miraculously survived a brutal poaching attempt. Last year, our very own James Mwenda was the guest of honour. This year, it was Zach’s turn; and alongside his lead speaking duties he took part in a theatre performance that depicted the loss of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino on the planet, to whom he was a caregiver.
By partnering with others around Africa and the world, our rangers are able to raise awareness about rhino conservation to an audience far greater than any we could reach alone. Sudan was a global ambassador for his species, as is blind black rhino Baraka, who continues to charm Ol Pejeta visitors. Our rangers are their voice – and we will continue to support their global travels to reach as many people as we can.