Saving the Survivors: Creating Hope from Hurt

Dr. Zöe Glyphis, South African Veterinarian at Saving the Survivors NGO, shares what it’s like to work on the front line, putting emotions aside and giving the rhinos left for dead a chance for survival.

Saving the Survivors was founded in 2012 by Dr Johan Marais to attend to injured endangered wildlife that has fallen victim to poaching or traumatic incidents. Due to the exponential rise in poaching incidents, STS works flat out to find the fallen and tend to them before it is too late. To date, the STS team has saved 203 animals through various interventions and surgical procedures. Most animals are treated in their natural habitat as transporting injured wildlife increases the risk and trauma experienced by these animals.

Rhinos are often poached and left for dead in very remote locations. This means helicopters are used for transportation to the site. Image: Zoë Glyphis.

What’s your story?

In 2012 Dr Marais realised that there was a dire need to learn more about endangered species and their veterinary care. Too little was known about rhino and elephant, and he did not want to be faced with the situation that when there are only a handful of the species left, that one needs to now try and make up lost time in order to save a species. STS was started mid to late 2012 and the main aim was to learn as much as possible about rhino and their care, as fast as possible. It started with the treatment of horrific facial injuries induced by poachers, and has gone on to abdominal surgeries, orthopaedic surgery and even drug trials.

Dr Johan Marais carrying out orthopaedic surgery on a white rhino cow with a fractured ulna. Image: Zoe Glyphis

The hardest thing

It is very difficult to see the sheer brutality of a rhino poaching case. Emotions vary from extreme despair, that a human can inflict such pain and suffering on such a beautiful animal, to indescribable rage at what has happened. We fortunately do not have much time to let these emotions override our thought processes and we get straight to work to try and save the animal in front of us. It is always more taxing on us when we see how difficult it is for the people with us on the scene — these people often see these rhino as their ‘children’ and that is emotionally very, very difficult…

Zoë tends to a victim of poaching. It is imperative that the gaping wounds caused from poachers hands are kept aseptic and any bleeds stopped. Image: Beryl Glyphis.

Your most memorable experience?

On the 24th of November 2014 a White Rhino cow was bought into the hospital for a ulna fracture repair — she had already suffered so much and then she never woke up from the anaesthetic as she was just too weak. The memories of that day will stay with us forever, and it was that very day that we knew that we needed to be a part of the solution! Since then we have seen truly horrific injuries that man has inflicted on these animals, and every single time it takes your breath away, shocks you to your core, and makes you want to fight even harder!

Dr. Johan Marais investigating the joint of the rhino using a scope. Image: Zoe Glyphis

The biggest reward

We wake up every day never feeling like what we do is ‘work’. I think that every single animal that is saved is crucial to the survival of the species as a whole, and more importantly the knowledge that we gain from every single survivor makes the treatment of the next one faster and more efficient. It is very rewarding to see an animal that was once injured roaming freely and just being a rhino. It is also rewarding when a rhino goes on to have his/her own progeny — Thandi, one of our first Survivors, has just had her second calf!

Left: Thandi, a white rhino cow from the Eastern Cape had her horn hacked off and left to die. Thandi survived, but with severe facial injuries. Saving the Survivors have been involved in her treatment and she has made a remarkable recovery. Right: One of the first survivors. Thandi received a skin graft and lots of love and care from staff. Today she is a mother to two beautiful rhino calves. Images: Saving the Survivors
Thandi’s story has always been an incredible testimony of the will to survive against all odds. She represents so much of what her species faces under the current poaching crisis. Her survival has already given us inspiration but the birth of her calf brings a new dimension of hope to the crisis showing us that a future generation of life is possible if we put our minds and hearts to it.” — Dr Fowlds of Investec Rhino Lifeline

The changes we must see if poaching is to decrease

We need some political will and support from Governmental bodies, which includes rooting out ALL corruption.

We need to educate all the end-users that there is absolutely no value in an animal that is extinct — it is an aberration and unacceptable in every way.

We need to offer more support to the communities surrounding our nature reserves and national parks, including education programmes, as they are the custodians of the natural world. If we do not start involving communities in conservation then there will always be conflict.

We need to support the people who own rhinos (there are over 6000 Rhino that are privately owned) — they have to pay for feed, security and they have sleepless nights wondering if they are next on the list. They need to be supported!

We need to support the rangers who never signed up to be soldiers in a war — they signed up for the love of nature.

Dr. Johan Marais feeds an adorable white rhino calf.

We need to start making our voices heard!

And most of all, we need to all start working together — this war will definitely never be won alone, and definitely not if more than 350 organizations who are claiming to save the Rhino are all not willing to work together toward the common goal…

Some things that the general public can do to help are:

  1. Create awareness by sharing social media posting
  2. Help us educate the next generations
  3. Report illegal wildlife crime via the correct channels e.g.
White rhino being prepped for surgery. Image Zoe Glyphis.

To find more information on Saving the Survivors and how you can help please visit:


Instagram: @savingthesurvivors

Twitter: @savingsurvivors