Africa has seen numerous female conservationists like Joy Adamson raising lioness ‘Elsa’ documented in the 1966 film ‘Born Free’; Diane Fossey’s dedication to mountain gorillas in Central Africa (inspiring the Academy Award–nominated film, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’); or Jane Goodall, spending years working with chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania, just to mention a few.
Had these courageous women inspired Annette Oelofse or was it her own desire to fight for the survival of the wild rhinoceros in Namibia against the growing number of poachers? Together with Annette’s late husband Jan (a world renowned conservationist and animal trainer who started as a mass game capturer and whose knowledge and passion for wild animals earned him the role of animal trainer for the classic Hollywood film ‘Hatari’ featuring John Wayne and Hardy Krueger) and her son Alex, Annette founded ‘Mount Etjo Safari Lodge’ in the heart of Namibia.
While Namibia is home to many varieties of African wildlife this private game reserve on 36, 000 hectares of land not only hosts but also shelters many of those not protected in this wide open and rugged land. Rhinos have always been a top priority for the tireless conservation efforts by the Oelofse Family, and the sanctuary was rewarded in 1993 for being as one of the very first rhino custodians for the black rhino custodianship program in Namibia.
Strong enough to support herself, Nossi was eventually re-introduced into the wild, sharing the Private Okonjati Game Reserve with many of Namibia’s rich variety of game. Nossi and so many others over the years have been saved from certain death and given a second chance at life, living out a wild and fully productive life on the Wildlife Sanctuary.
Saved by Annette, Nossi has contributed to the survival of her endangered species by giving birth to nine calves to date. Countless other rhino orphans have been lucky enough to make it to Annette’s doorstep.
Asia is home to some of the world’s remaining one-horned rhinos, the largest number of which can be seen in India’s Assam Karziranga National Park. Namibia, however, is home to both black and white two-horned rhinoceroses. White rhinos tend to be significantly larger, while black rhinos are shorter, sturdier and more compact. An adult white rhino can weigh up to 2,300 kg, while a black rhino doesn't usually go over 1,000 kilograms.
Black rhinos are browsers and they use their lip to feed off branches and shrubs. White rhinos do not have a prehensile lip and instead use their flat lips to graze off ground foliage.
In January 2022 there was a total of four of these magnificent creatures in Annette’s sanctuary including 19-month-old ‘Cato’(male), 16-month-old ‘Kamshona’ (male) and nine-month-old ‘Malaika’(female), all white rhinos. The star of the kindergarten, however, is a six-month-old female black rhino, ‘Mwezi’. By luck she was found at another reserve, approximately five weeks after her mother became a victim of ruthless poachers (who only receive a very small fraction of the sometimes three quarter million US$ a single rhino horn is worth on the illegal market, mainly in Asia) and sent to Mount Etjo, where Annette had very little hope she would survive the following day.
Annette spent many hours day and night feeding the very weak Mwenzi in the first weeks of her life. A month after arriving Mwenzi still receives most of Annette’s attention, along with an average of 25 litres of milk per day. Right now, this beautiful animal is slowly learning to munch on the fresh leaves of small twigs.
Annette’s daily routine starts early. At sunrise, she gets into her modified open army Jeep and enters the 80ha orphanage. It just takes just a few minutes for nine-month-old Malaika to greets her “begging for the bottle”. Annette’s soft and warm words (her mother tongue is German) provide additional comfort for the youngster as she drinks. The mutual affection is obvious.
After the 10 minutes it takes to empty both five-litre containers Malaika seems to lose interest and slowly diverts her attention to other things. Then Cato and Kamshona approach from the bush to greet Annette by pushing their weight against the reinforced jeep chassis. Although they already are very able to collect their own food they seem to enjoy the cuddling and soft fondling around the ears and head.
The Mount Etjo Rhino Trust was established by the Oelofse Family in 2015 due to the increased number of orphaned rhinos, caused by an alarming rate of poaching incidents all over the country. In order to minimize possible aggression, professional anti-poaching units supported by many installed CCTV surveillance cameras are on duty at Mount Etjo 24/7.
All this involves considerable cost. Contributions to the Trust are very welcome so are the results from auctioning the rhino paintings drawn by Alex’s wife, Carola, a very talented artist. Over the years Annette had nurtured several young rhino’s orphans delivered to her and although it involves great sacrifices (time, emotion, and money) Annette claims the reward she receives from her ‘kids’ are worth the enormous effort.