Elephants used to roam freely throughout Africa and Asia; now, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the existence of these large land mammals is severely threatened. There are estimated to be slightly fewer than 500,000 of these beautiful creatures left; habitat loss and poaching are major threats. Luckily, wildlife reserves have become a popular method of keeping elephants and other threatened species safe. The staff at these sanctuaries rescue and give medical aid to sick or injured animals to help maintain the existence of the species.
Fundimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage is usually not in the business of caring for elephants. The purpose-built rhino reserve got its start in 2001, when two parentless rhinos were brought to the Thula Thula Game Reserve for rehabilitation before being released back into the wild. The process was long and difficult, including a nighttime attack by poachers where one of the babies was shot in the leg. The entire experience convinced Lawrence Anthony, the world-famous environmentalist, author and long-time head of conservation at Thula Thula, that the need for a dedicated rhino orphanage was urgent. Sadly, by the time doors finally opened in 2015, Anthony was not there to see it; he experienced a fatal heart attack in 2012, but his legacy lives on.
While the rhino orphanage itself is not open to visitors, the larger game reserve offers accommodations and wildlife experiences to the general public. Clocking in at just under 20 square miles, the reserve is proudly family-owned and operated and "administered to the highest ethical standards, in keeping with modern conservation methods for the protection and enhancement of its indigenous and endangered species." Elephants, rhinos, leopards, giraffes, hyenas, crocodiles, wildebeest and more roam freely, and there are over 350 different species of birds that call the reserve home.