R.I.P. Anna Merz, 1931-2013
"What Joy Adamson was to lions, Dian Fossey was to gorillas, and Jane Goodall is to chimpanzees, Anna Merz is to rhinos." That’s how Desmond Morris described Merz in his foreword to her 1991 memoir and plea for rhino conservation: Rhino: At the Brink of Extinction, a deftly-written book that deserves to be more widely known.
Merz was born in England but spent much of her life in Africa, first in Ghana, where she served as an honorary warden for the game department, and then in Kenya, where she co-founded a rhino conservancy, Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary, with the Craig family, later folded into Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a leader in endangered species protection, restoration, and community conservation.
A rhino-whisperer, Merz was one of the first to learn the pachyderm’s cryptic language of snorts and breath noises. She kept a fascinating record while raising the orphaned Samia, warming the two-day-old calf in her own bed, learning from her that “aggression and bad temper are not normal aspects of [rhino] behaviour, and that being nervous and highly strung are.” Samia quickly grasped how to open gates and the door of Merz’s Suzuki truck with her prehensile lip, and her adopted human mum wrote that the truck, much bashed and clambered upon, “is starting to look all too much like a baby rhino’s favourite toy.” Merz’s knowledge was passed on to generations of conservationists at Lewa, who continue to raise orphaned rhinos and expand protected areas for both species of rhino, elephants, and other wildlife.
Lewa announced earlier this month that Merz, 82, died April 4 in a hospital in South Africa.