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Updates from the Last Chance to Paint team

Precious Africa Day 7 - it’s time to meet the Rhinos

It’s hard to believe that we have reached day 7 already! And what a good one this promises to be!

Martin and Phoebe from Born Free picked us up at 6am. We even had our breakfast before we left - hotels are very used to catering for early risers, mainly for those who are wanting to go on Safari tours to Nairobi National Park.

The trip to Ol Pejeta Conservancy is just over 200km from Nairobi - a 4hr journey! We are now 415km north from Amboseli!

This is perhaps one of the most important chapters in the project Last Chance to Paint; this is a story very close to John’s heart, mainly because it’s this story that kicked off the whole idea of teaching young people about conservation and inspiring them to do what they can to tread carefully on the planet. All this through the medium of painting. It was time to stop talking at children and try to involve them by allowing them to paint the story. John felt this was a sure way for them to remember the importance of some of the stories the world has to tell.

In 2015 it became known across the world that there were just 3 remaining northern white rhino left on the planet. This majestic creature was to fade away from the world never to be seen again. There was a tiny chance that a breeding program set up at Ol Pejeta could perhaps save the day. Sadly this wasn’t to be. When the last male in the species, Sudan, passed away in 2018. It was to be the end of the story and the northern white rhino is now functionally extinct. For John this meant it was definitely the ’The Last Chance to Paint’ the northern white rhino.

To be here in Ol Pejeta was indeed an important moment for John. We were made to feel incredibly welcome, and the team were very keen to tell their story.

We were met at the gate by our guide Dennis who was to look after us for the day and give us a tour of the conservancy. He was really friendly and extremely knowledgable about the conservancy. Right at the beginning of the drive we spotted a young lion dozing under a tree, a pair of enormous giraffes ‘necking’ - basically having a squabble, pushing and shoving and kicking one another, probably arguing over a lady giraffe! (a cow). While we were watching the giraffes, a large herd of African buffalo sauntered by, looking very curious and quite frightening! What a treat to see these wonderful animals at such close contact.

Next stop was the chimpanzee sanctuary which first opened in 1993. The sanctuary saves and houses, chimpanzees, who have been traded on the black market and mistreated. Here they are able to live a life of tranquility together. These are the only chimpanzees that can be viewed in Kenya. Unfortunately we were unable to view them from the open side of the area where they are kept because, due to the drought situation in the area, the river usually running alongside their habitat has dried up. When the river is in full force, the chimpanzees are contained because they can’t swim as they don’t float due to their bodies having very little fat.

We then made a stop at the memorial area for the rhino who had be either shot or poisoned by poachers. Sadly today, any rhinos in the wild have to be protected by armed guards 24 hours a day to keep them safe because their horn is so precious in Eastern medicine although it has no medicinal properties and is simply made of the same protein as your hair or fingernails contain, keratin. It was a very tranquil spot. Their was also a memorial in honour of Sudan, the last male northern white Rhino, who died in 2018 of old age. This was a very sad moment as it leaves just Najin and her daughter Fatu.

After this we went to meet Judy Muriithi, marketing coordinator, to listen to the story of the northern white rhino species and she introduced us to these very special creatures, Najin and Fatu. In the meantime it was time to try and spot a northern black Rhino. which inhabit the park. Would we get to spot one? No not yet! Black Rhino are solitary creatures who tend to skulk deep in the bushes and are quite hard to spot. White rhino, on the other hand, are more sociable and tend to hang out in groups.

When is was discovered that the last remaining northern white rhino left in the world were in a zoo in the Czech Republic, it was decided that they would stand a better chance of reproducing and saving the species if placed in a more natural climate and environment. So they were transported to Kenya where they were put into an enclosure of 700 acres and left to their own devices. To help integrate them into a wildlife situation a southern white rhino was put with them. The three of them live happily together still.

As with all things slightly controversial, there are two sides to every story and we are all allowed to have an opinion of our own. There is a breeding program in place to try and get these ladies pregnant in the hopes of keeping the species alive. There are those who believe that these beautiful creatures should be allowed to pass the last years of there lives in peace and those who want to save them from extinction.

The rhinos are protected by armed guards because of the risk of poachers. This is how numbers originally became depleted, alongside habitat destruction - there are certain cultures in the east who believe that the horn of a rhino makes a very important medicine - this means that the cost of a rhino horn would be almost priceless. Many many rhino suffered the pain and slow death when they were captured and their horns removed.

We had organised with the Ol Pejeta team that we would be allowed into the rhino enclosure for John to try and paint them - this was a huge honour and a dream of John’s! Before we went in, Jacob, their keeper, gave us a short history of their lives. He explained to us that he would have to gauge their humour on entering, to see if they were pleased to see him or grumpy!

They walked over straight away signifying that they were curious to meet us! And were GIGANTIC!!! I started off filming John as he spoke about what he intended to do regards painting them. While I was filming I realised I had one in front of me and one coming from the other direction!! I found it terrifying, even though we were safe in the hands of several keepers. I had to get back into the safety of the van straight away!! Where I remained..

As they were moving around quite a lot because they were inquisitive, John decided that he would work in a limited palette and make himself as mobile as he could! He decided that he would just enjoy the experience and maybe just produce more of a sketch. To start with John appeared to be doing a dance as he walzed around with his easel to get out of their way, It was funny to watch, However, as time went on it became apparent that they were quite comfortable with the situation, and started to snooze!

I took some fantastic photos (from a distance!!!) and we were lucky enough to have a member of staff from Ol Pejeta who was their photographer with us. He was much braver than me and took some amazing footage for us, as I thrust the camera into his hand threw myself into the van at speed! I’ve never been the type to get a kick out of fear!!!

The overall result was a fantastic painting which John painted in incredibly difficult conditions and some incredible memories! So thank you Ol Pejeta and all your wonderful staff for hosting us, allowing us to tell your story through the medium of art, and for giving us this amazing experience of a lifetime! I will never forget it, that’s for sure! And I’m guessing John won’t either!

Some facts about rhinos which you will be interested to hear -


  • Species - there are 2 types of African Rhino the ‘black’ and the ‘white’ Rhino. They are in fact both grey and the main difference is a white Rhino has a wide square lip - they graze on short grass like a lawn mower! The black Rhino has a pointed lip and browses on thicker roughage like thorny acacia bushes.

  • The white Rhino is divided into subspecies of 'Northern White Rhino’ and ‘Southern white Rhino’

  • Northern White Rhino have been poached to near extinction. Only 2 remain in the world - Najin and her daughter Fatu - these are kept under armed guard to protect them from poachers at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. In 2018 the last living male died.

  • Due to conservation programs in place, the southern white Rhino are more successful - these programs have managed to raise numbers from 200 in the early 1900s to more than 20,000. Yayyy!

  • Weight - 1.6-4 tons/3,500kg - as heavy as 2 cars

  • Size - 11-13.75 ft long, (length of two men lying end to end) and 5-6ft tall (height of a human) - they are the second largest land mammals

  • Eyesight - They have poor vision and are unable to see a person standing still at 30m away. They rely on their strong sense of smell instead.

  • They have two horns which grow continuously during their lifetime. A white rhino’s horn can grow 7cm every day. The record is 150cm long!

  • Communication - They communicate with honks, sneezes and poo! During confrontation they growl and make trumpet noises. Black Rhino snort when angry, sneeze like noises as alarms when they are scared and ‘mmwonk’ noises when relaxed! From the poo in the area they know who else is about!

  • Mud baths - they love rolling in mud! It keeps them cool and protects their skin from the sun. African Rhinos are poor swimmers and they can drown in deep water.

  • Over 7000 rhino have been killed by poachers in the last 10 years - that equates to 2 a day. They are poached because their horns are very valuable and used in eastern medicine.

  • Habitat loss - as human population grows we encroach on their natural environment. This means they have less space to live.

  • Lifespan - 45 to 60yrs when in the wild, but this is rarely achieved because of poachers

  • Speed - they can run as fast as 30-40 miles per hour

  • A group of rhinos is called a ' clash’

  • They have relatively small brains for an animal of this size

Do check out the video of John painting the last two northern white rhinos (released tomorrow at 9am UK time), encourage your children to paint them too and please send us their art for our World Gallery.

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