Safari saviour

Karen Pittar

One 12-year-old girl started a remarkable campaign to help vulnerable rhinos in Africa

Karen Pittar |

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With governments around the world struggling to solve weighty issues like poverty, war and climate change, it's easy to find yourself wondering what difference a single person can make.

Meet 12-year-old Hong Kong conservationist Julia Murray who is proof that with a little determination and a lot of hard work, even one young girl can make the world a better place.

Originally from Johannesburg, the Year Seven South Island School student has spent the past year raising money and awareness for South Africa's endangered rhinos. As a child, she was lucky enough to go on safari and experience first hand the amazing wildlife of her homeland.

"When Mum told me recently about the increase in rhinos being killed for their horns, it upset me," says Julia. "Mum suggested I throw a rhino party for my 11th birthday and I thought it was a great idea."

At the party, Julia and 13 friends painted "Save the Rhino" pictures. Afterwards, the colourful artwork was auctioned online and raised a staggering HK$30,000. Julia chose to donate the funds to the Chipembere Rhino Foundation in South Africa, headed up by wildlife vet Dr William Fowlds. The Chipembere team was so impressed by Julia's hard work they invited her to help them dart a rhino from a helicopter and fit it with a tracking anklet that had been paid for with her donation.

"Of course, I said yes," says Julia. "I was one of the first to reach the sleeping rhino with Will [Fowlds]. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a massive beast - the size of a dining table - and I could just reach out and touch it! There I was in the South African bush with this magnificent animal."

Julia says that from that moment on she knew she had to keep going. Today she aims to raise not just money but awareness, here in Asia.

Since her rhino encounter, Julia has set up a Facebook page, JuMu Rhino Fund, and is teaching local children by speaking at schools around Hong Kong. She has also gone on to raise another HK$50,000 through bake sales and stalls at fairs and markets, and through selling bags with rhinos on the front, as well as rhino key rings and hairbands - all made in South Africa by local charities.

"We are not able to save the rhino from extinction without the help of influential countries in Asia," says Fowlds. "We need children in Hong Kong to help us convince family and countrymen that we desperately need their help.

"The story of Julia and what she has done for the rhino cause is very significant; I share it as part of the presentations I do wherever I go. What excites me most is knowing her heart will keep driving her to respond to this crisis even if it lasts a lifetime. Her inspirational example will transcend cultural barriers and prompt people of her generation and older to realise the value of nature globally. She is my constant reminder of why it's so important to preserve what precious little is left for these children of the future."

Julia believes that every child can help make a change in the world.

"You don't have to be big to make a difference," she says. "If you have a cause you feel strongly about then don't give up. Get out there and spread the word.

"For me, I want children in Hong Kong to know that most rhino horn comes to Asia because people believe it can cure illness, but it is just made of the same stuff as our hair or fingernails. It's up to you to teach your parents the scary facts about plummeting rhino numbers. Please help!"

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