- We all need a hero, and local teen Hunter Mitchell has stepped up to the plate when it comes to conservation.
- The young man is passionate about rhinos and has been working to raise funds to protect and rehabilitate these majestic creatures.
- He shares his passionate seven-year journey in rhino conservation and his dreams for the future.
Hunter Mitchell was only eight years old when he started the Raise the Baby Rhino with Hunter project. An initiative in which he began to assist an orphaned baby rhino named Osita.
Seven years later, the teen has raised thousands in funds towards conserving rhino in South Africa and has received global recognition.
"I felt really honoured to be acknowledged and to become part of something so special that includes other young visionaries and leaders from around the world," Mitchell says of the 2021 Diana Award he received at age 14.
The Diana Award is given to young people making an outstanding contribution to society, which Mitchell has done for nearly as many years as he's been alive.
'I knew that I had to help'
"When other kids were watching cartoons, I watched Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel," Mitchell says, adding that he remembers being moved to act when he learnt about how human greed was affecting wildlife.
"I remember learning that humans were driving our wildlife to extinction because of greed and lack of respect for their purpose and beauty, so when I heard about an orphaned baby rhino that was found at a game reserve close to where I live, I knew that I had to help."
When he met Osita, Mitchell says that he decided to dedicate his life to "become a voice for rhino".
"I have now raised over R500 000, which has gone to help to rescue, raise and rehabilitate countless orphaned and injured rhinos in South Africa, but I could always do with more support... to not only raise money but also awareness".
'In his memory'
Despite being released back into the wild on the Aquila Private Game Reserve in the Western Cape, Osita has not survived, Mitchell says.
"He sadly passed away from a blood parasite common in white rhinos a year later. It was a very hard time, but everything I do now for rhino conservation is in his memory," the teen says.
And while the young man has not allowed the loss to dampen his conservation work, the realities of being a school-going child has meant an ever-increasing workload which he tries his best to juggle.
"It was much easier when I first started, and I was younger, but now that I am in high school, it is not that easy. So I work very hard when I can, especially in the school holidays," he told us.
'Living each day for the future of our rhino'
Mitchell says he is also massively inspired by his mentors.
"I am very privileged to have some amazing mentors in my life who are conservationists and wildlife vets who I try to spend any of my free time with learning".
Despite the danger of rhino conservation, Mitchell says he's definitely considering conservation as a potential full-time career and possibly becoming a wildlife veterinary surgeon.
The teen says he hopes to raise more awareness around these incredible local animals and do more to eliminate rhino poaching.
"Rhino poaching is organised crime! Rhino conservation is such a complicated, dangerous and scary world that I know most South Africans don't understand. There are so many incredible people living each day for the future of our rhino, putting their own lives on hold and at risk to save our heritage.
"I think people really don't get how close to extinction our rhinos really are and that we are nearly at a point where more rhinos are being killed for their horns than rhinos being born. Rhinos are our heritage, and as a proud nation, we should all be playing our part to protect our heritage for generations to come, even if it's just a small part, because extinction is forever!"
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