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South African Rhinos Find Sanctuary

FILE - Rhinos await buyers in pens at the annual auction in South Africa's Hluhluwe-Imfolozi national park, Taken 9.18.2010

Vets in South Africa have just transferred more than 30 orphaned young rhinos to a sanctuary designed to keep the animals safe from poachers who killed their mothers.

he move took six weeks and required extraordinary planning, including the help of animal friends who accompanied the orphans.

"We can't just move them all at the same time and go 'boom, there's a new home'," said Yolande van der Merwe, who oversees their new home.

"You have to take it on very carefully because they're sensitive animals," she said.

Van der Merwe, 40, manages the Rhino Orphanage, which cares for calves orphaned by poachers, rehabilitates them and then releases them back into the wild.

This month, after its old lease expired, the non-profit moved to bigger premises, in a secret location between game farms in the northern province of Limpopo.

Benji, a white calf who is only a few months old was the last rhino to relocate.

At birth, rhinos are small, not higher than an adult human knee, and tip the scales at around 20 kilogrammes (44 pounds).

But they eat a lot and quickly pick up weight, ballooning up to half a tonne in their first year of life.

South Africa is home to nearly 80 percent of the world's rhinos.

But it is also a hotspot for rhino poaching, driven by demand from Asia, where horns are used in traditional medicine for their supposed therapeutic effect.

On the black market rhino horns fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

More than 450 rhinos were poached across South Africa in 2021, according to government figures.

At the sanctuary, orphaned calves are nursed back to health by a team of caregivers who sometimes pull 24-hour shifts, sleeping in the same enclosure as the animals to help them adjust.

At the new sanctuary, Benji and his friends enjoy bigger enclosures with more space to roam.

They are fitted special transmitters to monitor their movement as part of an array of security measures to keep poachers at bay.

The orphanage asked AFP's reporters not to disclose its new location.