BIG EFFORT: Hunter Mitchell with the baby rhino Osita which he helped hand-rear in South Africa.
BIG EFFORT: Hunter Mitchell with the baby rhino Osita which he helped hand-rear in South Africa. Contributed

Hunter is a true Wildlife Warrior

HELPING hand-rear a baby rhino that had been abandoned by its mother isn't something your average nine-year-old can boast.

But Hunter Mitchell isn't your average nine-year-old.

The South African boy was among the special guests at Saturday's Steve Irwin Gala Dinner in Brisbane, where he accepted the 2016 "Visionary Wildlife Warrior" award from Bindi Irwin.

Hunter received the accolade for his support in helping hand-rear the baby rhino in collaboration with Aquila Private Game Reserve, and the primary care-giver Divan Grobler.

Hunter regularly volunteers his services which include cleaning, mud-bathing and walking the rhino calf named "Osita” - a Nigerian word meaning "from today, things will be better”. 

As well Hunter, who is now an honourary ranger at the reserve, has helped to raise more than $7000 to help pay for Osita's living costs, starting with his pocket money and asking friends and family to contribute, then arranging mufti days at school and creating a Facebook campaign page and crowdfunding website.

Hunter was presented with his award by Bindi Irwin.
Hunter was presented with his award by Bindi Irwin. Contributed

His passion for rhino conservation has also seen him deliver talks to thousands of students educating them on the plight of the rhinos in schools across South Africa.

The greatest threat facing rhinos is poaching for the illegal trade of their horns.

This has soared in recent years with one rhino killed every eight hours.

Last year, 1312 rhinoceros were illegally killed in Africa. Unofficial figures for 2016 show the numbers are set to meet or exceed that due to increased demand in Asia for the animal's horn.

At this rate, it is expected that rhinos will be extinct within the next 10 years.

Hunter was able to travel to Brisbane to collect his award in person, thanks to a fundraising competition run by Aquila Private Game Reserve.

Qantas provided return flights and South African Tourism helped with flights, accommodation and all on-ground activities including speaking and media engagements to help Hunter spread his important message to as many Australians as possible.

While in Australia, Hunter gave educational talks to a number of schools in Sydney, letting children know that they too "can make a difference even if you are small”.

He also responded to media requests giving three national broadcast interviews with ABC News, The Project and Weekend Sunrise, reaching millions of Australians.

Acting Country Manager for South African Tourism Australasia, Yana Shvarts, said South African Tourism was committed to the conservation of rhinos.

"Hunter's story is a shining light in the fight to save these incredible animals,” he said.

"We are honoured to help bring such an inspiring young man to Australia to share his story, raise awareness and encourage future Wildlife Warriors.”  

Speaking at the gala dinner, Bindi Irwin praised Hunter for his passion and initiative at such a young age.

"I am a great believer in kid empowerment, because as kids, we're the next voters, we're the next decision-makers and the next generation to be changing the world,” she said. 


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