This South Africa’s blind rhino will steal your heart

Munu was found wandering around in circles towards the middle of December 2018 by a section ranger named Moolman, He became blind because he liked to fight with other rhinos. Munu is an abbreviation of the ranger’s name, hence Munu being bestowed with this title.

Munu comes from the Addo National Park which is based in the Eastern Cape, an hour’s drive north-west from Port Elizabeth.

After being tranquilised by the park’s veterinarian team, he was safely relocated to a specialised facility at the Mantis Founder’s Lodge, South Africa.

This was, of course, a serious matter as Munu now has a very low gene pool of his particularly rare kind – namely the south-western black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis bicornis), which is a subspecies of the black rhinoceros, living in a small belt confined to south-western Africa only.

It is estimated that around 250 of these rare, precious animals remain alive in the entire world today. The biggest threat towards Diceros bicornis bicornis is poaching as well as habitat loss.

“Every rhino matters,” says Paul Gardiner, CEO of the Mantis Foundation, “so we’re giving him a second chance.”

Since settling into his new surroundings, Munu has been able to leave his pen and roam across five hectares of surrounding wilderness.

He benefits from 24-hour surveillance, advanced anti-poaching protection – and even a built-in music system.

“If you stand in his enclosure, there’s a permanent streaming of a radio station that he loves,” Gardiner explains.

What are the dangers facing rhinos in Africa?

Throughout the 20th century, big-game hunters, settlers, and poachers have decimated Africa’s black rhino population, and now there are only 254 South-Western Black Rhinos left in South Africa.

Between 1960 and 1995, their numbers dropped by a startling 98 per cent, leaving fewer than 2,500 individuals in the wild.

Much like white rhinos, black rhinos are killed for their horns, which attract high prices for their use in ornaments and traditional Chinese medicines.

In South Africa alone, 594 rhinos were killed for their horns in 2019 – a vast improvement from the 1215 individuals that were killed in 2014 when the problem was at its peak.

This decline has much to do with South Africa’s successful monitoring and conservation schemes, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, the country’s poaching figures decreased for the sixth year in a row, with just 394 rhinos killed for their horns.

The environment ministry put this down to the country’s harsh lockdown restrictions, which prevented the movement of would-be rhino horn smugglers.

A symbol of hope

Abandoning Munu to his own devices in the wild would have meant certain death, either from a lack of water and nutrition or getting killed by other rhino or lions. Based on the very low numbers of his sub-species, the decision was made to look after him at Addo. It was then decided to contact the National Parks authorities to see if we could adopt him and take care of him at Founders Lodge.

Following the required protocols and permits involved in securing Munu’s rights to a new home at Founders Lodge, arrangements began to fall in place to construct his permanent facilities with us.

After extensive preparations to replicate Munu’s secure boma facilities at Addo, his relocation to Founders Lodge became a reality in late June 2019. He now has 4 full-time caretakers at Founders Lodge, working on a rotational basis, who look after of all his daily feeding and cleaning requirements; and the need for company (which most captive animals respond to very well). Munu’s two senior carers, Derick and VJ, have bonded with him strongly and love working with him daily. Furthermore, 24-hour security is provided for Munu, the importance of which cannot be overstated.

Munu has 2 separate, large, safe additional outdoor environments in which to spend his days as well as a radio station to assist in guiding him back to his water, feeding and sleeping bomas. In the first enclosed boma, Munu also has an overhead misting spray to help him stay cool on hot days.

The most important aspect to emphasize here is our efforts to save this amazing rhino subspecies! Since Munu is in his breeding prime years, our ultimate goal is to obtain a black rhino female of the same subspecies to mate with Munu and create a breeding area to continue the growth and numbers of the subspecies. The thought of having baby black rhino at Founders Lodge one day is truly magical.

This is a vital medium to long-term vision – again it’s critical to re-iterate there are only around 250 of the same subspecies alive today.

His presence, albeit captive for his own safety, adds to our current free-roaming rhino population of 5 white rhino, (nearly six, one female is heavily pregnant).