When poachers attack, this nurse is a lifeline for orphaned rhinos
Rhinos may look tough with their double horns and thick skin. But the iconic creatures have sensitive souls. Jade Aldridge didn’t expect to fall in love with the gentle beasts. When the veterinary nurse came to South Africa to volunteer in wildlife rehabilitation, she was confronted with the realities of rhino poaching. She began to take care of calves whose mothers had been killed after seeing the life-threatening position the orphaned animals were in. “I wanted to make a difference,” she says. Aldridge made a decision to put down roots here and fight for their lives.
Aldridge has been working as a nurse and co-manager of the rehabilitation centre at Rhino Revolution for three years. She has dedicated herself to saving and protecting young rhinos. The calves that Aldridge cares for have witnessed their mother’s deaths at the hands of poachers, and are severely traumatised. In the wild, young rhinos remain by their mother’s side and become extremely stressed when alone. Aldridge steps in and becomes a foster for the orphans, even sleeping alongside them to provide comfort and nurturing. “The biggest thing for me is having them make that bond with you when we’ve done such terrible things to their mothers,” she says. Despite the strong connections Aldridge forms with the rhinos, she has to ensure they experience minimal human interaction so they can rely on themselves when they are older.
Last year, Aldridge and her team successfully released five rhinos into their natural habitat. They dehorned them to deter poachers, giving the animals a chance at a new, safe life. While it’s people who are putting the species at risk of extinction, it’s also people who are responsible for saving them. “They deserve to be looked after and be able to roam free,” Aldridge says. With her immense compassion for the spirited creatures, she is ensuring a generation of rhinos can live in peace.