Conservationist, baboons die in fire

2012-07-28 16:26
Rita Miljo

Rita Miljo

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Johannesburg - SA conservationist, Rita Miljo, known for her work with orphaned baboons, has died in a fire which also gutted much of the headquarters of the sanctuary she helped found.  She 81.

The director of the Centre for Animal Rehabilitation & Education, Karl Pierce, said on Saturday that Miljo died in the apartment she lived in above the sanctuary's clinic.

He said the first baboon she rescued, named Bobby, and two others died with her in the fire that broke out on Friday night at the centre.

Pierce said the fire consumed the clinic, offices and a house on the property. 

The fire broke out around 20:00 on Friday, after volunteers and workers had left the centre for the evening, Pierce said.

No one else was injured in the fire, which remains under investigation.

Miljo officially established CARE in Phalaborwa in 1989 as a facility to assist all orphaned and injured wildlife brought to her by concerned members of the public.

As her centre grew, so Rita became known for her ability to nurture orphaned baboons.

She developed a method to integrate the animals into new troops that could be successfully released back into the wild. 

While Miljo no longer ran day-to-day operations of the center, which cares for more than 400 baboons, she remained a constant presence and a figurehead for the organisation.

"Everybody's still in shock about this," Pierce said.

Born in Germany in 1931, Miljo came to South Africa in the 1950s. In a 2008 article about her in The Washington Post Magazine, Miljo said helping baboons taught her "why people behave the way they do".

"Chimpanzees can be deceitful, just like humans, whereas baboons haven't learned that yet," she said at the time.

"So what you learn from the baboons is the truth about yourself.

Chimpanzees have already learned to find beautiful little excuses for their behaviour."


- AP

Read more on:    polokwane  |  conservation  |  animals
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