Affectionate: Laura Ellison and Grace at The Rhino Orphange in South Africa. “I just have this real desperation to help them,” Laura said. Laura Ellisonhas just spent the last three years living in South Africa as a veterinary nurse at The Rhino Orphanage.
Laura knows there is a softer side to rhinoceros and she is sharing this with the world. The former Forster resident has just spent the last three years living in South Africa as a veterinary nurse at The Rhino Orphanage.
The 25-year-old, who attended Holy Name Primary School, said her passion for helping animals started after visiting a vet clinic with her dog in Forster.
And her passion for rhinos ? –thatstarted at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, where she worked as a keeper.
Laura’s heart belongs to rhinos Myself and Tshidi (2 months) during her treatment at Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital. Tshidi was found wandering with Echo for at least 3 days after losing her mother to poachers. Unfortunately during this time, Tshidi ingested a large amount of sand. When young, milk dependent rhino calves are orphaned, they tend to resort to sand to help their hunger. Being too young to know any better, they generally consume large amounts which pose great health complications to them once ingested. Tshidi was rushed to surgery, her last and only option in hopes to flush all of the sand out of her intestines before it eroded through (which would be fatal). Unfortunately, Tshidi had consumed an enormous amount of sand, all of which could not be safely flushed. For Tshidi’s entire treatment, myself and another carer, stayed by her side, day and night. But, Tshidi died 5 days after her surgery and 18 hours after Echo. Words will never be able to do justice to our heart break.
Pictured here is myself feeding Thula, alongside my younger sister who is feeding Nenkani. Thula was shot by poachers and suffered a bullet wound that passed through her shoulders. That same bullet killed her mother. She also unfortunately lost sight in both of her eyes due to dehydration and injury after the poaching incident. Despite all of this, Thula is an incredibly gentle and loving rhino.
Kabira, Kabelo and I taking a quick nap break on our morning walk. Rhinos love contact, it is their main way of communicating (and getting a pillow). Kabelo always loved to lie all over me (apparently I was comfortable) and I could always feel the purest love, lying in my lap.
Kabelo and Kabira, aged about 7 here, enjoying their wallow on a hot summers day.
Pictured here is Echo an 18 month old white rhino, who was admitted to the orphanage after being found wandering around with another orphaned rhino, Tshidi. Due to the stress of losing her mother to poaching, combined with the recent drought and winter, Echo was in very poor condition, she presented emaciated and very weak and unable to stand. We worked hard to stabilise her and get nutrients into her via a blended mix of hay and electrolytes, as well as starting her on milk again, to help regain strength. Echo was so weak that she was unable to stand. So we purpose built scaffolding around her to help us lift her estimated 4-500kg body weight. Lifting her assisted in her circulation and also prevented a build up of toxins and muscle atrophy. But, despite our best efforts and the best vets, the heart breaking decision was made to euthanize her. Echo’s condition was deteriorating and she had lost her will to fight. NB: Echo was blindfolded and had ear plugs placed to help decrease stress during her treatment. This helped to get her to take her milk and electrolyte formula from a bottle.
Myself and Kabelo, when he was about 3 months old, wallowing on his morning walk.
Initially, only one-two carers are introduced to bond with the calf, replicating the natural bond that they would share with their mothers. This particular orphan was hypoglycaemic and dehydrated so we had blankets, a heat lamp and body warmth provided to help stabilise.
The challengeLAURA’S time in South Africa did not come without its challenges.
After her initial Visa ended, Laura applied for another working Visa through an agent in South Africa and in the mean time returned to Australia.
Upon returning to Africa she discovered the Visa was a fake and she spent 36 hours in South African immigration detainment, which was a jail-like cell next to someone who was suspected to have Ebola.
“I discovered that ‘agent’ was a fraud and I was forced to return back to Australia. My heart was broken,” she said.
Laura was banned from returning to South Africa for life. She appealed and four months later it was processed.
“Not once did I consider giving up. Not going back to those rhinos was just not an option.”
Laura said at times the job was “extremely dangerous” but this is expected in her line of work.
At one point Laura had her leg ripped open, which resulted in a serious infection.
“I didn’t have any fear of the danger. I would risk myself to save them. Often they come to us traumatised or injured from poachers,” she said.
“They need support and comfort like any baby.”
Laura is counting down the days until she can return to be with the rhinos.
“I feel naked without them,” she added.
Laura Ellison is counting down the days before she can be back in South Africa. She is pictured here with Nandi.