By Robin Pierson, Special to the Independent
“My Baby Rhinos” tells how two baby rhinos in Africa, orphaned by poachers, broke open the heart of a girl from Laguna Beach. When that teenager returned home, the book tells how the girl raised money for the care and protection of the young rhinos so that they could grow up safely.
The story in this children’s book is true. And the authors, Kelsey Paul and her mother, Jill, will be reading from their newly published book, “My Baby Rhinos – The Story of Kelsey’s African Adventure!” this Saturday, Nov. 5, from 11-1 p.m. at The Soul Project, 1516 S. Coast Highway, in Laguna Beach.
The Paul family first travelled to Thula Thula, a private game reserve in Zululand, South Africa, in 2014 when Kelsey was 16. They had learned about the reserve after reading “The Elephant Whisper,” founder Lawrence Anthony’s story of rescuing, then falling in love with, an endangered herd of seven elephants.
In 2000, a decade after the elephants found sanctuary, the reserve took in two baby rhinos, Thabo and Ntombi, whose mothers had been killed for their horns. Staff hand fed the babies, slept with and played with them, until they were 18 months old and could be released onto the reserve. They remain under constant security to ensure that they would not meet the same fate as their mothers.
Though free to wander, the pair often come back to sleep near the lodge. On the Pauls’ first night at the camp, with the light from a flashlight, they saw two grey mounds cuddled together against their hut. Just as the now deceased Anthony bonded with the elephants, a bond of love was being forged between the Pauls and the rhinos.
When Kelsey returned to Laguna, she went to work seeking donors and raising funds. Eva Madray of Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen donated t-shirts printed by Summer Meek of the Soul Project. The $2,000 in proceeds from t-shirt sales Kelsey donated to Thula Thula’s rhino orphanage.
According to Francoise Malby Anthony, the widow of the founder, security and anti-poaching efforts remain a top priority at Thula Thula, as both rhinos and elephants populations in Africa are in jeopardy due to the persistent poaching of the animals for their ivory and their horns.
The Pauls plan to return to Thula Thula this summer and Kelsey hopes to present Anthony with another check to help pay for the care and security of the animals on the reserve. All proceeds from the sale of “My Baby Rhinos” will also go to the Thula Thula Rhino Fund.
Along with the reading, the event will include yoga with Bai Shaia and a pop up shopping event. “Our motto is shopping with a purpose,” said Meeks. “All our items have a story behind them.” Much of the inventory is made by locals, she said, all with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit those in need, both people and animals.
The author lives in town and writes about subjects that interest her.