A former Aboyne Academy pupil, who helps run a South African game lodge with her husband, has spoken of her horror after poachers butchered one of their rhinos for its horn.
Hannah Mellet moved to South Africa six months ago after marrying ecologist husband Darius, 27, from Johannesburg, and they are now assistant general managers of Ubizane Wildlife Reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
“I feel so strongly about the cause and really want to raise awareness about the seriousness of the problem,” said Hannah, 25. “After a mere two months of assisting in the general management of a game lodge in South Africa, I was devastated to find the ever-increasing statistics relating to rhino poaching so close to home.
“After having previously worked on a game reserve in Limpopo, where we raised a rhino calf named Peanut, we knew it would be tough to top the experience. But the Hluhluwe Umfolozi National Game Reserve, close by to our new job, boasts the largest density of white rhino in the world, and so we decided this was where we wanted to be.
“It was an intense battle from the start, after the much loved rhino bull, Butch, was tragically poached in February 2011 for his incredible horn. Desperate to avoid the same fate for the rest of the crash, security was increased and Darius and his team located and followed the remaining rhino mother and five-year-old calf daily.”
However, Hannah said two days passed with no sign of the rhino cow and tracks of the calf were seen alone - a highly unusual sight for the inseparable pair.
A full expedition of reserve staff joined the search, followed a day later by the whole team combing the 1,200-hectare reserve step-by-step.
“On day five, the tragic and disturbing sight of a carcass was found butchered deep in the thickets,” said Hannah. “Both horns had been savagely hacked away from the body, not a centimetre left behind. The heat of the previous five days saw to it that the majestic mother was reduced to a rotting mound of flesh, the smell, indescribable.
“It is a month now since the heartbreaking incident and still all of us at the lodge struggle to talk about the reality.
“The deserted calf continues to be monitored, but is rarely seen by visiting guests because he is too scared of the sound of humans and their vehicles.
“We, the staff at Ubizane, feel violated and cheated in a way that cannot be described, and so deeply saddened it can’t be explained in words.
“But what is the cause for such inhumane butchery? I can remember reading about the demand for rhino horn in my cosy home in Aberdeenshire when the issue didn’t affect me, and I didn’t understand then the Asian obsession for a substance not dissimilar to human nails and hair, keratin.
“Now, writing this in my new home in the bush I understand even less how such cruelty can be caused by humans.
“It is impossible to grasp how ignorant and greedy people on a completely different continent can affect the conservation of a country on the other side of the world, and keep getting away with it.
“There hasn’t been a single proven case of rhino horn ever curing cancer or indeed any other disease or ailment. And if there had, surely there is an answer as to how we can sustain rhino numbers as well as reduce the brutality continuing everyday across the country, whilst supplying this medicinal delicacy. I don’t believe cold-hearted slaughter is it.”
Hannah said the five-year-old calf had since been darted and his horn cut off in an attempt to save his life and assure the future of rhino populations in South Africa.
“We hope visitors from all over the world will continue to come and see these magnificent creatures we care for so much and appreciate the animal while it still survives,” said Hannah.
“The reality is, without such great teams like Darius and everyone working at Ubizane Wildlife Reserve, we don’t know how much longer the White Rhino has.”
* Hannah (nee Elson), attended both Aboyne Primary School and academy, played football for the Deeside Girls and was a member of Banchory and Stonehaven Athletics team.
Her parents owned Praesmohr House Residential Care Home in Birse for 20 years, where Hannah worked for many years as a cook and a care assistant. They sold the business but still live in Aboyne and Hannah has a sister in Ballater and one in Aberdeen. Her Grandpa lives in Cushnie near Alford.
Hannah studied international hospitality business management in Leeds before spending two months in South Africa, when she met Darius.
She worked for a short period at Aboyne’s Boat Inn in Aboyne before getting engaged, marrying at St Thomas’s Church in Aboyne, with a reception at Glen Tanar Ballroom, in September 2011 and moving abroad.
She has visited South Africa on holiday with her family every year since she was seven and they have family in Pretoria.