I am thrilled to share this lovely story of kindness. I have been following Blankets For Baby Rhinos on Facebook for over a year, and I have been awed by the generosity of its talented members, who make gorgeous blankets for orphaned rhinos and other animals. I was delighted when founder Elisa Best agreed to share her story with me. I think you will be amazed at how one person’s kindness can inspire so many to do what they can to help these beautiful animals. I hope you enjoy reading this touching story and looking at the cutest photos of the animals in their knitted blankets.
Elisa Best grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa and in 1993 qualified as a veterinary surgeon. She had a passion for wildlife, and although she became a small animal vet and subsequently a soft tissue surgeon for dog and cats, her interest in wildlife never waned. While practicing in the UK, she started to see posts from colleagues in South Africa about the number of rhinos being poached and the cruelty involved—she wanted to do something to help.
Rhinos are an endangered species, hunted for their horns. In the early 1900’s there were 500,000 rhinos living in Africa and Asia, now there are less than 30,000. In the last ten years, 7,000 African rhinos were killed. When a poacher kills a rhino, often two lives are destroyed—the mother and her calf. Baby rhinos live with their mothers until they are about two or three years old. Thus, losing their mother, can be devastating to a young rhino, and many don’t survive.
In November 2016, quite by accident Elisa founded Blankets For Baby Rhinos Facebook group.
The group’s initial purpose was to knit squares to make blankets for baby rhinos at an orphanage in Natal, South Africa. The young rhinos found warmth and comfort in these blankets.
In addition to providing blankets for rhinos, the group has raised more awareness of the crisis affecting rhinos.
In just three years, the group has grown to over 3500 members worldwide. The outpouring of support and knitted blankets means they can now sell some of the blankets to raise funds for other items desperately needed by rhino orphanages. The group has purchased equipment, medicine, other veterinary supplies and food for the rhinos, meerkats, elephants, and dogs who are part of the anti-poaching units.
They also donate hats and scarves to the anti-poaching rangers. These rangers are vital to wildlife protection and put their lives at risk to protect these animals. For them, receiving a handmade gift from overseas with a note offering support and appreciation, means so much, and really helps them to do their job.
Blankets For Baby Rhinos is entirely volunteer based. Thus, any funds raised go directly to helping rhinos, elephants and pangolins as well as smaller donations to meerkats, flamingos, penguins and primates. They also support those who help care for these beautiful animals.
The group is currently run by Elisa Best and Nita Smith. Nita manages the South African side of the operation. She works tirelessly to get the supplies to where they are most needed. Alongside Nita and Elisa they have several key volunteers in South Africa, the United Kingdom and the USA who generously help to raise funds, distribute goods and raise awareness.
In October of 2019, Elisa received the Vet of The Year award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The award was in recognition of her work to help rhinos and other iconic African wildlife, such as elephants and pangolins.
James Sawyer, UK Director of IFAW, said: “Elisa’s pioneering approach to harnessing practical public support to help rhinos and other rescued African wildlife is really impressive and she is a great example of animal welfare in action. We hope her efforts will inspire the next generation of animal welfare and conservation campaigners. She is a very deserving winner of IFAW’s Vet of the Year Award.”
Elisa says she hopes that Blankets For Baby Rhinos shows that everyone can do a little to help animals and this can make a big difference.
When asked the one thing she would change in the world, her answer is, “To make people realize how valuable wildlife is to us all and that if we don’t look after it, it will be gone forever.”
If you would like more information about Blankets For Baby Rhinos, please check out their website: https://www.blanketsforbabyrhinos.org/ or join their Facebook group.