An intense period of rhino poaching in the 1980s saw Zimbabwe’s rhino population plummet from 10 000 rhinos to less than 1000 rhinos in just a few short years. A decision was made by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to move Zimbabwe’s few remaining rhinos into Intensive Protection Zones (IPZ) with this Rhino and Elephant Project being one such zone.
Seven orphaned baby black rhinos were placed in the care of the Rhino and Elephant Project in 1985 (Noddy, Sprinter, Fumbi, Cuckoo, DJ, Amber, and Mvu) after their mothers were killed by poachers in Northern Zimbabwe. These seven rhinos thrived at the sanctuary and bred successfully with a record-breaking fifteen babies born in less than twenty years. Eleven of these rhinos were subsequently reintroduced into the Matusadona National Park however, the Matusadona release programme has since been discontinued due to a lack of funding.
The sanctuary is home to four majestic elephants (Mac, Toto, Mandevbu, and Mzou) that were all orphaned at very young ages. The elephants were subsequently rescued and the sanctuary has provided them with a haven that closely resembles their natural habitat. However, for the continued safety of the elephants and rhinos at the sanctuary, the animals are brought into secure bomas during the nighttime to ensure that they are properly protected from poaching threats.
Elephants are highly intelligent and complex animals that require constant stimulation. Out in the wild, elephants acquire this stimulation through interacting with their large hierarchical herd, from the daily struggle of finding adequate food and water, and by avoiding predators. As life at a sanctuary does not pose these same basic survival challenges, rescued elephants tend to express their boredom in more destructive ways! To prevent this from happening, the sanctuary has worked with elephant behavior experts to create a unique set of challenges for Mac, Toto, Mandevbu, and Mzou that help to keep them adequately stimulated. It is important to note that the sanctuary does not approve any form of cruelty and/or physical punishment of animals and as a result, all training is performed on a reward basis only.