Laura Ellison’s heart belongs with rhinos in South Africa

Affectionate: Laura Ellison and Grace at The Rhino Orphange in South Africa. “I just have this real desperation to help them,” Laura said.
Affectionate: Laura Ellison and Grace at The Rhino Orphange in South Africa. “I just have this real desperation to help them,” Laura said.

Laura Ellison has just spent the last three years living in South Africa as a veterinary nurse at The Rhino Orphanage.

Laura knows there is a softer side to rhinoceros and she is sharing this with the world. The former Forster resident has just spent the last three years living in South Africa as a veterinary nurse at The Rhino Orphanage. 

The 25-year-old, who attended Holy Name Primary School, said her passion for helping animals started after visiting a vet clinic with her dog in Forster.

And her passion for rhinos ? – that started at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, where she worked as a keeper. 

Laura wanted to do more for the rhinos and decided to take on a six-month stint in South Africa at the orphanage.

Within two months the orphanage offered her a job and Laura realised she had found her calling. 

“I just have this real desperation to help them,” Laura said. 

“Rhinos are misunderstood, people assume they have no personality and are aggressive. So I take any opportunity I can to let people know how intelligent, loving and loyal they are.

“They have the capacity to be so gentle. They would move their horn away as to not hurt me. They are very aware of themselves and their power.” 

Laura was the onsite vet nurse – she treated the rhinos, prepared and fed them milk, walked them, cleaned and would remain on call, sometimes sleeping next to the ill or injured animal through the night. 

One week she worked 97 hours straight on just two hours sleep.

Laura shares these experiences with people around the world on Instagram, where she has 19,600 followers. 

“I feel so incredibly privileged that I have a platform to share what I am passionate about,” she said.

“I love writing about rhinos and that people can be exposed to their different personalities. If I can fall madly in love with them so can anyone.”

Laura is back in Australia completing her studies to become a vet, with the ambition to return to the orphanage in a greater capacity. 

She misses rhinos and life in South Africa every day. 

“People say once you go to Africa it gets into your blood and it’s so true.”

Laura Ellision is passionate about the conservation of rhinos in the wild and says unfortunately poaching is on the rise. Here she sticks her tongue out with Kabelo.

Laura Ellision is passionate about the conservation of rhinos in the wild and says unfortunately poaching is on the rise. Here she sticks her tongue out with Kabelo.

The challenge

LAURA’S time in South Africa did not come without its challenges.

After her initial Visa ended, Laura applied for another working Visa through an agent in South Africa and in the mean time returned to Australia. 

Upon returning to Africa she discovered the Visa was a fake and she spent 36 hours in South African immigration detainment, which was a jail-like cell next to someone who was suspected to have Ebola. 

“I discovered that ‘agent’ was a fraud and I was forced to return back to Australia. My heart was broken,” she said.

Laura was banned from returning to South Africa for life. She appealed and four months later it was processed. 

“Not once did I consider giving up. Not going back to those rhinos was just not an option.”

Laura said at times the job was “extremely dangerous” but this is expected in her line of work. 

At one point Laura had her leg ripped open, which resulted in a serious infection. 

“I didn’t have any fear of the danger. I would risk myself to save them. Often they come to us traumatised or injured from poachers,” she said.

“They need support and comfort like any baby.” 

Laura is counting down the days until she can return to be with the rhinos. 

“I feel naked without them,” she added. 

Laura Ellison is counting down the days before she can be back in South Africa. She is pictured here with Nandi.

Laura Ellison is counting down the days before she can be back in South Africa. She is pictured here with Nandi.