29 April 2013
Former Australia Zoo volunteers Zach and Morgan Cooney make a dynamic duo as they fight rhino poaching in Africa. Morgan reports from the field on their journey to become Wildlife Warriors.
Spreading the message
For all our lives, my brother Zach and I have loved wildlife and wild places. Since before either of us can remember we were surrounded by everything relating to wildlife including many books, wall posters, and videos on animals. Once we were old enough to understand what conservation was, we became passionate about spreading the message to everyone we met about the importance of preserving our planet's amazing animals. Our goal became making the world a better place for wildlife.
Hurrah for a hero
We were six when we first saw Steve Irwin on television in the United States. Within the first five minutes, he became our absolute hero. Everything that he was about, we loved. He was Australian, he surfed, he rescued wildlife in distress, and he caught the world's most venomous snakes and biggest crocs. How could you get any better than this? From then on, we were positive that working with crocodiles and snakes was exactly what we were meant to do.
Since then, Zach and I have worked with wildlife all over the world. We rehabilitated injured monkeys in Guatemala, rescued crocodiles in Costa Rica, helped with stranded turtles in Uruguay, caught snakes in Swaziland, cared for lions in South Africa, and volunteered at the Australia Zoo! While our goal is still to work with crocodiles and snakes primarily, if Steve has taught us anything, it is that becoming a Wildlife Warrior means being there for wildlife when it needs you the most.
While the original plan was to work with crocodiles and snakes in Costa Rica... every single day, Zach and I would hear about another rhino being killed. Eventually, we decided to take action; we had to do something. To us, this meant combating the poaching crisis that was driving these amazing animals to extinction.
The Cooney twins have trained to become part of the counter-poaching program at SanWild, owned and founded by Louise Joubert. Set on 14,826 acres, SanWild offers injured wildlife a safe haven because it is also home to one of Africa's most formidable counter-poaching teams. Morgan says Louise, one of Africa's most dedicated wildlife conservationists "is by every definition, a Wildlife Warrior". The anti-poaching teams put everything on the line to help the animals they love. "We wanted to do the same," says Morgan.
Rhino deaths in South Africa as a direct result of poaching:
- 2007 - 13
- 2008 - 83
- 2009 - 122
- 2010 - 333
- 2011 - 448 (19 were critically endangered black rhino)
- 2012 - to 1 October 455 animals; estimated loss by year end in excess of 1200 animals inclusive of natural mortalities and those hunted legally by trophy hunters.
Sources: African Conservation Foundation, TRAFFIC
Australia Zoo's efforts
Australia Zoo is part of a regional co-operative programme, working with other zoos in Australasia to maximise breeding potential and genetic diversity of the southern white rhino. We've had success with the birth of rhino Savannah in 2011 and there's another baby rhino due in April 2013!
Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors is working closely with a select group of conservation programs across Africa to protect endangered species. Funds donated by Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors currently go towards direct protection and security operations of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which is the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa. For more information check out our conservation projects.
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