Shenton Safaris

Rhino orphanage attacked. Please help.

In a brutal manifestation of how out of control the rhino situation is in South Africa, Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage was attacked, baby rhino/s killed, care-givers savagely beaten and a young woman sexually assaulted.


Baby orphaned black rhinos at Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage. © Simon Espley

On the night of 20 February 2017, the relative sanctuary of Karen Trendler’s revered Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage, set on a hilltop amidst a sea of rural villages in KwaZulu Natal, was shattered as 5 men brazenly breached the security system and brought destruction and chaos to this special team of people and their rhino babies. Karen was not at the orphanage at the time of the attack, and her young team were subjected to the horrific ordeal.


The facilities at Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage. © Simon Espley

The team from Operation Rhino 7 – the national South African Police Service anti-poaching programme – were alerted and have already impounded a vehicle and rifle and arrested 2 men in nearby Ermelo. They continue to work hard to bring the perpetrators to book. Update: the 2 men arrested were not involved in the Thula Thula attack – they are being held on other poaching charges.

The identity of the woman that was sexually assaulted will hopefully remain confidential. Exact details of how many rhinos were killed are sketchy, but one baby had to be euthanized the following morning due to its injuries. Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage staff members, the baby rhino care-givers, need your positive energy right now. They also need privacy, as they pick up the pieces and start the long journey to mend themselves. The team is understandably extremely traumatised, and members of the public are requested to direct their focus on putting pressure on the South African government to bring about change. Please also be patient, as more information will be made available in due course.


A baby rhino and hippo, best buddies at Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage. © Simon Espley

This incident is a sad indictment of how violent criminals are now the chosen tools of trade in the savage rhino poaching industry. Surely this is a turning point for South Africa’s beleaguered rhinos and their protectors? Surely the South African government now has to at last take a stand and stop fiddling while Rome burns?

For regular updates refer to the Facebook page Outraged SA Citizens against Poaching


Karen and her courageous team need your help right now, and donations are by far the most effective way of helping in this hour of need.


Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation, via the email address

South Africans: Telegraphic transfers to bank account

Bank name: First National Bank

Account name: Lawrence Anthony Earth Org

Account number: 62080145983

Account type: Cheque account

Branch code: 223526 (Westville)

Swift code: FIRNZAJJ


An adolescent orphaned white rhino from Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage, recently released back into the wild. © Simon Espley

Africa Geographic Editorial

We're the Africa Geographic editorial team – a diverse set of editors, designers and social media natives, all united by our passion for this addictive continent.

  • Ndovu

    Horrendous attack – time the South African government stopped all talk of trade and tacked this scourge of killing and destruction.

  • Arja Whiteside

    words fail me… I am so so sorry, and very angry. SA government MUST take steps to end the madness, this is just horrible!!!

  • Louise Schoultz Barry

    I am devastated , this is my orphanage. It is time for us the people to take the government on about these poor babies and put a stop to the murder of our animals. I hope they are found and tortured .

    • Boudeccea

      Prayers for you, the staff and the babies.

      • Louise Schoultz Barry

        The orphanage doesn’t belong to me sorry for the misunderstanding. I support this orphanage ,So they like my family animals and humans alike.

    • Starfang

      An eye for an eye makes everyone blind.

    • Errol Gunn

      I agree with you Louise…drastic action needs to be taken against poachers with immediate effect and to stop treating them with kid gloves but like the savages they are with punishment so harsh as to put off any poacher from ever thinking of slaughtering a rhino again! And if torturing these bastards will do the trick then I’m all for it!

  • Chantal Cherry Abrahams

    Im so saddened by this ;-(


    Want to save the Animals in africa, stop the horn trade, muti trade and bush meat hunts? There is one simple solution. Stop feeding and sterilize the most violent, invasive and disruptive predator on the planet; black (African)s. This species, just like certain species of other animals has shown itself to be a ‘pest’ but is actually a terror. Their population would be better suited to being at pre-colonial numbers. Start with a mass cull, and then offer $50 per pelt. This would stop such horrors such as this. Then again, no one wants to come to the logical solution because they are weak willed and truly do not care about the planet.

    • Brian Hansen

      You cant be serious?? The africans are just the poor middleman doing the work for chinese and vitnamese mafia….. Your racism doesnt benefit the rhinos in any way…..Its a sad solution, but maybe the only way to save the Rhinos is to breed them with out the horn…..

      • Thanks for your totally justifiable reaction, we have deleted the above post and banned the person. Sadly online platforms are plagued by trolls like this.

    • Isabelle Anne Abraham

      Wow. So you’re conveniently forgetting about all the (black) volunteers, security and other staff who’ve been working full time to protect the rhinos and particularly the orphanages? Undermining their efforts and dedication so that you can unleash your racism in one disgusting comment?

      • Thanks for your totally justifiable reaction. Sadly online platforms are plagued by trolls like this. We have deleted the above post and banned the person.

    • Susie de Bruin

      You are despicable and an utterly racist! Go and read the history of poaching in South Africa and see how many white South Africans have been caught as kingpins.
      I totally distance me from this disgusting comment you made.

      • We have deleted the above post and banned the person. Thanks for your totally justifiable reaction. Sadly online platforms are plagued by trolls like this.

  • Esme’ Blair

    It would seem that the EFF and Zuma who one invite and the other do nothing have encouraged the local population to attack and savage . This is TERRORISM . South Africa there is nothing to respect you for . The murder of wildlife and the murder of farmers. Again. There is no respect for South Africans who sit and listen to the invite of violence by uneducated leaders. I am so very sorry that this absolute horror was visited upon Thula Thula. It must go viral. Justice must be severe. I am so ashamed of South Africa

    • Sharon Dreyer

      Some farmers are the very ones murdering wildlife. Go read Julian Rademeyer’s Killing for Profit and see who is hugely behind the rhino devastation in SA

      • Esme’ Blair

        I have no doubt some farmers are behind the supply chain to the Chinese syndicates that operate with impunity in Africa. My point is…Sa has just had two brutal attacks on farmers. The lady that has just died ran a dog sanctuary…parrallel to this is the incomprehensible attack on a rhino orphanage… have a ZUMA govt that confined brutal acts no matter whether it’s human or animal. The point is….The Govt of SA stands accountable

      • Tilley Sue

        I think some these farmers are taking money from Rich Americans to Kill for Trophies as well !!. This has to STOP to!!. Anyone that Kills for Trophies, Medical Ingredients, etc. should be Annihilated on the spot!!.
        No one needs these Scum of the earth Rich Killers, no matter what their Race!!!.

  • Errol Gunn

    Unless a shoot to kill and a shoot on sight policy isn’t bought into this fight soon our rhino are doomed! Most poachers are Africans and they should be stopped before they get anywhere near a rhino! And those caught should be executed right there and then! Its time to stop pussy-footing around with these savages and take drastic action if we’re to save this iconic species!

    • Margaret Woodall

      You are so right, this has proved someone somewhere in power is assisting in this killing, they must now try and right wrongs and really get serious about protecting their animals, enough is enough. I do also feel that something ought to be done in the country which encourages the myths about what these animals can do for humans and we ALL know what country that is, and the West has made it rich.

    • Russel Jack

      Well that is how other African countries handle it……

    • T!me Warper

      Not just shoot on sight. Hunt and eradicate the poachers and anyone associated with them. Start turning up at the homes and make them watch their entire families shot before they are castrated and left to bleed out and you’ll see this garbage end overnight.

      • Mike Prior

        Really? butcher their entire families? you are just as sick as the poachers are.

      • RachelEllis

        Threats like this weaken the cause by making it’s supporters look rabid. While I understand (and share) your anger, your comments are completely inappropriate.

    • Thomas Peterson

      You hit it on the head my friend!! Don’t waste time with arrest..kill the poacher where he stands! Leave his evil minded body where he’s shot..and let wildlife clean him up!! These are repeat offenders and they are a disgrace to mankind and life itself!

    • RachelEllis

      Actually you should direct your rage at the South African government which does little or nothing to end this trade, as well as the corrupt Chinese officials who take bribes to turn a blind eye to the crooks who import the horn.

      I t would be nice to get some guidance from the refuges as to which officials could benefit from a MASS public shaming in this regard. >:(

      • Brian

        What happened to that ANC minister that was implicated in poaching in White River last year, as I recall?

    • Emenice Mhungu

      #Africans. This sounds like you are a racisist..

      • Errol Gunn

        What the hell is a ‘racisist’ Mhungu? And just to set the record straight, I despise everybody involved in rhino poaching…be you white, black, Chinese, Vietnamese, American, whatever! Does this hatred towards those killing off our rhino still make me a racist? By the way this is the correct spelling of the word just in case you want to use it again in the future!

        • Emenice Mhungu

          Thank you for the spelling correction. I wish if you could do the same with what i noted. Read above Louise. He said Africans. And it sounds wrong. We have poachers who are Asian, Caucasian, African, u name it. But Once i specify and say, ” Most poachers are Caucasians and they should be stopped before they get anywhere near a rhino! And those caught should be executed right there and then! Its time to stop pussy-footing around with these savages and take drastic action if we’re to save this iconic species,” sounds wrong.

          • Errol Gunn

            Get rid of that chip on your shoulder Mhungu because it’s affecting your eyesight and preventing you from reading properly!

          • Ramzey Dollie

            I realize this is ten months later but ESG definitely wrote “Africans” and NOT “African countries”. So I’m with Mhungu on this one. ESG definitely sounds RACIST in the extreme.

          • ESG

            And you sound like a moron to me! Now go back to sleep Rip!

      • Louise Schoultz Barry

        He didn’t say Africans , he said African countries which by the way we are living in Africa.I am with Errol on this , I hate anybody that kills our animals.

    • Corryn Gow

      Couldn’t agree more !!! If they’re prepared to wield assault or whatever weapons, their intentions are suspect & they should be treated as potential killers … In other words if they’re TRESSPASSING, THEY’RE DEAD – END OF STORY … NOT CARRIED OFF TO SOME BRIBABLE POLICE STATION ETC. Enough is enough, they do not have the luxury to enjoy life !!!

    • fionaingram

      As in Botswana where the army protects the game parks and they have orders to shoot poachers dead on sight.

      • Errol Gunn

        Exactly Fiona and that’s why poaching hardly exists in Botswana because their country sees the life of their wildlife worth much more than that of a useless poacher!

    • Kristalina Ilieva

      Unfortunately it’s hard to explain to poor hungry people why they need to save the rhinos. But if the market and the demand for rhino horn is cut off, there will be no poachers, interested in risking their life for killing rhinos. The black market in China for such goods is enormous and the Chinese government is the one to be held responsible. They have to educate people and to implement serious measures to address the contraband with endangered species. Otherwise we will lose not only wild rhinos, but also wild tigers and many other magnificent animals.

      • Errol Gunn

        This is my take on it…China or the East doesn’t order rhino horn from Africa like a supermarket orders something thats out of stock…its being offered to them so they buy it! But if it wasn’t offered to them because the poachers were stopped in their tracks before they got to killing a rhino and selling off the horn then there wouldn’t be any horn to be offered to the Chinese and the East. Problem solved. My 2 cents worth in any case.

    • He didn’t say Africans , he said African countries which by the way we are living in Africa.I am with Errol on this , I hate anybody that kills our animals.

  • Ann Warner

    When will this world realise just how much a war Africa is facing. When
    will other governments wake up and say this is our heritage, time we
    moved in and helped with troops on the ground and equipment before its
    to late. Lets face it the horn and tusks from our wildlife is going to
    finance terrorist groups who will eventually challenge you in
    governments!!!!!!!!!!!!! Such a sick bloody world!

  • Jo Burgess

    One of the ways to help, according to the article, is of course donations to deal with the emergency. Another way they ask for help in the long term is to put pressure on our government to protect rhinos. EVERYONE can do this!

    The proposed regulations for allowing domestic trade in rhino horn are open for public comment currently, and would create a massive loophole that poachers would stampede through. So, send comments! The DEA is taking comment through Ms Magdel Boshoff at Ideas for text:

    Dear South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs,
    I was appalled to learn that South Africa’s current plan to help save the endangered species of rhinos is to legalize the trading of their horns.
    I call on the Government of the Republic of South Africa to reject ANY trade in rhino horn, both domestic and international, and to improve legal protection for rhinoceros.
    South Africa is home to 93% of the world’s rhinos, animals who are threatened by extinction. The most dire threat to these rhinos is the poachers who target them for their horns. Organized poaching syndicates have become widespread as the demand for rhino horns has increased.
    South Africa hopes that legalization of domestic trade will undermine the crime syndicates behind poaching. In theory, a controlled legal market could cause the price of rhino horn to fall, and make poaching unviable. Trade would be limited to within South Africa.
    History has shown the appalling consequences of this idea. When South Africa and three other African countries briefly legalized trade in ivory in 2008, poachers went on a rampage and elephant numbers plummeted. This must not happen to rhinos.
    Legalizing domestic trade in rhino horn would only play into the hands of organized crime and drive the rhinos’ extinction. Poachers are highly adaptable: as legalization of the ivory trade showed, they bribe officials monitoring the legal trade in order to launder illegal horn. Legalization would also fuel demand for rhino horn. People who shunned illegal horn in the past would have no such reservations once it is legally available, and that raises the demand for horn, which increases poaching to provide a supply.
    We need to maintain our ban on trade in ALL rhino horn, anywhere in the world, in order to ensure rhinos remain here for our grandchildren.
    Please help end this grievous practice rather than encouraging it.
    [Your name]

    • Russel Jack

      A Sad idiot…….

    • Boudeccea

      Thank you Jo. I’ve sent the email and posted it on my Facebook page and my German Shepherd Lovers of the World Facebook page as well.

    • Marta Feio

      Email sent and shared. Thank you, Jo.

    • laurie


    • Annabel Claridge

      Done. And a sentence added about condoning a trade in something that does nothing, has no medicinal properties and is used by billionaire Vietnamese kids as a way of flaunting wealth.

      • Cindi Buzzell

        Where do ai send a letter? Is there also a petition? I am so saddened by this news! I am donating, but would like to send a letter as well.
        Thank you for your help in advance

    • Tish Grant

      Done.!! and sharing.

    • Linda Dunn Jones

      Email sent, information shared! Praying for justice both in this world and the next for those that commit these horrendous crimes against nature!

    • Bianca Bruno

      Donated and email sent….thank you !

    • Leoa

      Done! Wonder who is actually gaining from the legalization ?

    • Pranjit Tamuli

      This brutal act of rhino killing rhinos needs to be handled in two ways .
      First we should avoid Chinese products as much as possible in protest against their use of rhino , tiger and all endangered species products. Next is shoot at sight. Sad thing is when the later was party introduced in kaziranga the whole world criticised thanks to bogus journalism by BBC

  • Tanya A Pitcher

    this is a morally reprehensible and heinous crime against an organization doing amazing work to pick up the pieces of rhino lives devastated by poaching. sadly tho, until the demand for horn is reduced completely, there will always be an aggressive drive to supply…at whatever cost, the insatiable appetite of the ill-informed Asian consumer. No amount of funding for rhino protection is going to fix this. The only way to stop this is to put pressure on Asian governments. Who, together with our own African governments, have shown little political will to change the status quo. Too many pockets being lined, too many vested interests in the this sordid trade continuing. It is sickening.

  • Sue Harwood

    Our government MUST be held accountable. This is a savage war against our precious wildlife which, apart from all else, is is the lifeblood of tourism in this country. For starters, troops should be deployed URGENTLY in and around our reserves. We have an army – and this is an aggressive war which is ruining lives throughout Africa. It has now taken a terrifying turn against the caretakers of all races. Secondly, an epic campaign to raise awareness even more and raise funds MUST be set up by powerful organisations – we need to saturate…flood social media with the horror of this heinous scourge and urgently introduce harsh punishment. How about it, 94.7? Critical circumstances need critical measures…..WAKE UP NOW!

  • Sandi Danckwerts

    As a South African I bow my head in shame. When will the government take a stand to stop the carnage of the Rhino.
    This is abdominal.

  • Watsonsmom

    Donated, on behalf of my company, Arte for Elephants. Unspeakable. So sad.

  • Belvidere

    Surely Surely the retreat should Not Have set up site where it did? Rhino horns are worth much much more than Gold , and to set up the sanctuary where it is – may have invited the attack?
    I quote ” the relative sanctuary of Karen Trendler’s revered Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage, set on a hilltop amidst a sea of rural villages in KwaZulu Natal” !! – Wrong place – surrounded by abject poverty and by implication a strong embedded Criminal network?? Move it to a more isolated and more easily defended locstat!

    • It’s a country wide problem!!!

    • Linda Dunn Jones

      They set up where there was need. Being in a location far from the animals that need their protection is no protection at all. Blaming the victim is the WRONG mentality to every situation!

    • Louise Schoultz Barry

      It doesn’t matter where these sanctuaries are set up , the greed of man will always penetrate these boundaries. Thula Thula is an elephant sanctuary too;Read the book “the elephant whisperer” by Anthony Lawrence the founder of Thula thula.It will give you an insight as to why Thula thula is where it is.

  • William Allen

    This is a war and it needs to be treated as by the South African government. If the United Nations can pressure them they should.

  • SLKite

    I really don’t know what to say…there are no words to describe my prayers, my outrage,and my sorrow, for the staff and animals remaining at the Orphanage, except to say that the South African government is enabling this crime due to their refusal to take the kind of legal action necessary to make a stand against the poaching of rhinos, and the rest of their wildlife….

  • kugelmum

    Follow the money. Hunt these bastards down.

  • bluekate

    Why, why , why won’t some billionaire or a few get together and buy most of the rhinos and elephants from Africa and bring them over on boats like Noah’s Ark to a huge sanctuary in the middle of Florida or Australia? I know it’s just my dream but come on guys, they aren’t going to make it over there. There is far too much poverty for the people to be concerned with the well being of these ancient and vital species.

    • Errol Gunn

      As much as I’d hate to see South Africa’s rhino shipped to other countries, it may be the only solution to saving the rhino! The SA government is too useless to stop this and have done very little if anything drastic to stop the ongoing slaughter! SA should declare war on poachers as they’ve done in Botswana where poaching now hardly exists, due to their shoot to kill policy, and poachers now know that trying to poach anything in that country could lead to their deaths!

  • Lynda Burdette Schneider

    OMG!! I am in tears right now. This is incredibly horrible!! My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those at Thula Thula.

  • psitank

    Shame on the Vietnamese for buying Rhino Horns

  • Angie

    please start a gofundme account – i’m sure that a lot of people (including myself) would love to help out!

  • Vik

    I watched a programme on uk tv that followed “legal loopholes ” in ivory trade and watched how illegal ivory was blatantly bought and sold in China .. I’m ashamed to say an awful lot of it passed through uk borders almost unhindered. If legal horn is allowed to be sold then there’s no way we can put a stop to it, there’s too many corrupt people out there to manage it so an outright ban HAS to be the way forward with hardline punishment for anyone who is found with any at all. Almost impossible I know but this has to end.

  • David Ebert

    The PayPal link appears not to be working. Is there another way to donate on-line?

  • Tracey Dunn Williamson

    Get bounties on their heads, and kill orders. It is time to get rid of these people, death penalty for captured. . Wouldnt it be nice if trophy hunters had the guts to battle poachers but they would just pee their pants if their targets could shoot back. Poachers murder people all the time, time for them to be erradicated. I will gladly donate to bounties on their heads.

  • na

    shoot to kill.

  • Elizabeth Gage

    ugggggggh thats awful, thoughts and prayers those who were attacked and i hope these criominals are arrested soon

  • This is a new form of of low! There must be a shoot to kill policy, no question. Live by the sword and die by the sword. Errol Gunn ( no pun) I totally agree with you , but more so we must get to the Kingpins and take them out. My thoughts are with the people of Thula Thula they and the remaining animals must be seriously traumatised. Hope they get councelling.

  • Drew

    deny armed protection. Refuse to dehorn rhinos. Post them on Facebook. = Poacher bait. Whoever ran this place should have seen this coming and had placed not only the rhinos but the volunteers in danger.

  • Angie Dumisang

    I think Mr President Jacob Zuma will only do something when all the rhino is completely extinct. Only then will he swoop in and look like he his doing so much for all the other endangered animals, that is until they find some other species valuable enough to kill off.

  • Betty Luck

    S Africa needs to go to Kenya and adopt what they are doing that has WORKED. NO HUNTING AT ALL. Its a shift in paradigm to animals are not products ever. A zero tolerance policy. SA sells off their lions, elephants and rhinos to th highest American bidders and then over there says poaching is illegal. It will never work. GO TO KENYA as i have.

  • Ginette Collerette

    So sad, no respect for life

  • Kim Jin(my GINIE )

    kaziranga national park (Assam, India )has shoot at sight order by the forest gaurds, if they suspect anyone inside the forest. mostly local people from nearby villages are involved with poachers .

  • Jean Sleigh

    How about setting up an Avaaz petition directed at the SA gov? Avaaz is a powerful and influencial oganisation and I think setting up a petition via their website is easy.

  • Heather Podbielski

    A lead bullet is the only way with these bastards. Please do the right thing to eliminate these savages!

  • Sylvia Nilsen

    Done – made a donation today.

  • Kathleen Evans

    There is a good Al Jazeera documentary about rhino poaching in South Africa. Maybe it’s common knowledge for South Africans, but it was very interesting for me.

  • Nogger White

    “In a brutal manifestation of how out of control the negro situation is in South Africa, …”

    There, fixed it for you.

  • Conserv

    LAND GRABS AND PROPOSED EXPROPRIATION OF LAND: What effect will it have on Our Rhino population? Politics is a dirty game. We have seen how failing 3rd world African governments have used every ‘card’ to justify their existence and keep themselves in power, irrespective of the well-being of the country, its people and the natural environment! The last two cards being dealt in South Africa are the so called ‘racial inequalities’ and give the people land. Other than starvation and strife that will follow, our natural environment is going to be greatly affected. Rhino Owners, Nature’s Warriors, Conservation organisations, NPO’s and NGO’s make ready for BATTLE. Those animals already on the brink of extinction FACE THEIR DARKESS HOUR, with the proposed law of expropriation without compensation, and fanatical political parties and organisations propagating the extermination of farmers and to take their land. They will more than likely target land with Rhino, slaughter them and sell the horns. As we well know, Rhinos are worth more dead than alive. Greed and corruption will over ride all logic and common sense. Custodians of Rhino – Do you have a Contingency Plan? If you don’t make one fast!!

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