These days, it seems that you can’t find a single game reserve in South Africa without its own sad rhino story. Poaching has touched the lives of almost everyone living around rhinos and it’s no different for the team at Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill Bush Homes. However, unlike many rhino poaching stories, this one has a silver lining. This is Max, the rhino’s, story.
In the winter of 2012, one of the guides at Ant’s was out on horseback when she noticed something very strange – the tracks of a single rhino calf moving in the direction of Ant’s Hill. Alarm bells immediately began to ring. At the time, the only rhino calves in the area were too young to be walking the reserve alone, with the oldest being two years old and the youngest being Max, a mere 18 months old.
Rhino calves only leave their mother when she calves again and this is usually around three years, so these single tracks were cause for great concern. Ant called all the staff and arranged a search party to find all the rhino on the property. With rhino poaching on the rise and the memory of a recent poaching incident all too fresh in their minds, the team at Ant’s knew the urgency of the task at hand and feared the worst. Erwin, the dominant male rhino, and Sophie, one of the females, were found near Ant and Tessa’s house and the rest were slowly accounted for. All except for little Max and his mom, Banana Horn.
After another few hours of tracking and searching, the team came across the body of Banana Horn. She had been shot by poachers and her horn crudely hacked off. With a full moon the night before, the team assumed that this was when it had happened.
Banana Horn’s calf, Max, had lost his mother at just 18 months and would now have to fend for himself – too old to be taken in and hand reared by the Ant’s team, but also too young to be left without a mother. In the days that followed, Max found refuge within a herd of wildebeest near Ant’s Hill. The herd offered a kind of protection and friendship for this orphaned calf. Owners at the Ant Collection, Tessa and Ant, recall seeing poor Max mixed in with this herd of wildebeest as a devastatingly sad sight.
About two months after Banana Horn’s poaching, Tessa and Ant were supplement feeding the rhino at their house (this is done to help see them through the dry winter months) when Sophie came around the corner with her calf, Kuenene, and trailing along behind them was Max! Sophie had accepted Max and offered him protection, allowing him to follow her and Kuenene back to Ant’s Nest. With that, a ‘brotherly’ relationship was formed between Max and Kuenene which would last for years to come. These two rhinos, which have been inseparable ever since, demonstrate one of the strongest bonds Ant’s has ever seen.
Considering Max’s grisly beginnings, this was the best outcome anyone could have hoped for. In the majority of rhino poaching incidents, the rhino calf is killed along with its mother because they gallantly try to protect their moms.
To this day we will never know why Max’s life was spared but we are extremely thankful and know that he is one very special rhino.
After Banana Horn was poached in July 2012, Ant and Tessa were devastated and, although they already employed private security guards to protect their rhinos, they knew that more needed to be done. Together with Victoria Crake and Gustav Collins, Ant and Tessa founded the Save the Waterberg Rhino foundation which aims to raise funds to protect rhinos on privately owned land within the Waterberg Biosphere area. With the dramatic increase in rhino poaching in recent years, private rhino owners have found themselves at the forefront of the battle against rhino poachers and this often comes at a great cost. Save the Waterberg Rhino have teamed up with The Waterberg Biosphere Reserve and StopRhinoPoaching.com to help private land owners safeguard these rhinos. A team of respected members of the community, rhino owners, rhino specialists and security experts help to manage the Save the Waterberg Rhino foundation.