Perhaps you’ve seen the video. Hunter, a 7-months Belgian Malinois and a 2-day old abandoned giraffe calf named Jazz lying side by side, licking and nuzzling each other. Basically one of the cutest things you’ve seen this year. We spoke to Yolande van der Merwe, Manager at The Rhino Orphanage where Hunter lives, to find out a little more about his remarkable affinity for guarding over the weak and vulnerable.
Somewhere in Limpopo province, The Rhino Orphanage is doing all they can to save the lives and rehabilitate the calves of rhinos who’ve fallen victim to poaching. ‘Somewhere’ because the location is not disclosed for fear of being targeted by poachers. In June of 2019, two Belgian Malinois puppies were donated to the orphanage to serve as guard dogs and help with tracking. Hunter and his brother Duke have adjusted well to living on the farm. But it’s the smaller Hunter who’s really taken to protecting the rescued wild-life — showing a natural instinct to guard and nurture.
“In the beginning, Hunter was very shy but he has become very confident. He outshines his bigger brother in most things, including tracking and now animal care” says Yolande.
“We’re not sure what draws Hunter to these animals.”
When Jazz was found comatose after being abandoned by his mother, it was as though an invisible force pulled Hunter towards the giraffe calf. Yolande remembers:
“Hunter insisted on being in the room with us while we monitored the little giraffe. He cautiously kept crawling closer and closer to the giraffe until he was lying next to him, touching him with his head and paws. I think he was testing to see how we would react. Once he realized we wouldn’t tell him to leave, he investigated, smelling the giraffe and curling up next to him. Whenever curious Duke came closer, he growled. He became so protective that he even snapped at one of the volunteers when she approached Jazz too fast. When I injected the little giraffe with antibiotics, Hunter started crying.”
Sadly, all the media attention, well wishes and loving, attentive care from Hunter and the dedicated team of volunteers could not save Jazz. He passed away 3 weeks later due to pooling of blood behind the eyes and haemorrhaging caused by a genetic defect (perhaps explaining the giraffe mom’s decision to abandon her calf). As the end was drawing near, Hunter sensed that something was wrong and stayed by his friend’s side to the end, trying to guard him in vain against something he could not keep out, despite his best efforts.
After staying outside the empty room for a while, Hunter seemed to have accepted his friend’s death. And, as if the universe sensed the void, an injured rhino calf came in, just a few days later. Amazingly, Hunter shows a similar affection for the rhino calf too, staying by its side and even trying to cover it with a blanket!
Apart from his guardian angel duties, Hunter is also being trained with his brother to do tracking and detection work.
“The idea is to scent them on rhino calves as we very often sit with situations where an orphaned calf was sighted but cannot be found. Time is critical for these rhino babies. The longer it takes to capture them, the more they get dehydrated and stressed, sometimes with injuries as well, and the bigger the chance they will be taken by predators.”
And if his dedication to the guarding duties is anything to go by, Hunter will be a hero in the veld as well.