'Mother of baboons'
Continuing the legacy of Rita Miljo
Pioneer in Rehabilitation & release of Baboons
18 Feb 1931 - 27 July 2012
German born, Rita Miljo, known as "Mama Imfene" which translate to "Mother of Baboons" was a pioneer in rehabilitating baboons and releasing them. With releasing her first troop of rehabilitated baboons in 1994 we believe she is the first person in the world to form a troop of orphaned social primates, raise them and release them.
Rita's passion was baboons and she was tough, determined and outspoken for her cause. Locally, some regarded Rita as an irritant; working for a species that so many despise, but globally her work is revered, and she is appreciated immensely for her contribution to conservation and animal advocacy.
Just Some of Rita's Many Achievements Since Establishing C.A.R.E.
1989 - Established C.A.R.E.
1994 - Worlds first ever release of a rehabilitated social troop of primates. 70% survival rate after 1 year. Troop = McGee, Letaba
1996 - Released Fatso troop The survival rate after 1 year was observed at 94 %. After 2 years it is 72%.
1996 - First ever rescue of baboons from a laboratory
2000 - Relocation of wild baboons confiscated from a trapper by the Department of Environmental Affairs - Letaba.
Rescued Samango monkeys from various sources & the Samango's bred successfully which is the first recorded instance of them breeding in captivity.
2002 - Wild baboons destined for laboratories were confiscated from C.A.P.E laboratories & released. Nelson Mandela met Rita that day and watched the release and observed the animals "Walk to Freedom". Shambala Nature Reserve
2002 - released Einstein's Troop Vredefort Dome 3 infants were born within the first year of release.
2002 - Tito's troop were released at Vredefort dome. Despite initial successes ; After 2 years the survival rate was 61% and due to poisoning the troop was returned to CARE due to fears for their safety - they were re-released in 2007 on a different reserve
2006 - Rita enlisted the help of our present Managing Director Stephen Munro and taught him all she knew concerning releases. With his own intuition & Rita's experiences, together they released Henry's troop. After 1 Year a 75% survival rate was observed.
After 2 years a 63% survival rate was observed. However in the 2 years the troop gave rise to 4 babies to make up for initial losses.
2007 - Rita secured a release site & her now trained release Manager Stephen Munro released Tito's troop; After 1 year an 80% survival rate was observed
12 0riginal + 1 baby. After 2 years 8 original (+ Jongo) + 3 babies. Survival rate:(9/14)= 64%, Population inc/dec:11/14 = 79%. After 2 years 5 months: 8 original (+ Jongo) + 5 babies. Survival rate (9/14) = 64%, Population inc/Dec (13/14) = 93%
2007 - Groovy troop released, sadly unforeseen poaching meant that some of the troop were killed & the survivors were removed and taken back to the safety of C.A.R.E. - Rita and Stephen began an antipoaching initiative on the reserve.
2009 - Rita and Stephen organised and carried out the release of Rambo troop.
2010 - Rita rescued 17 baboons from an animal sanctuary which was closing down and the baboons destined for euthanasia. Stephen undertook the relocation journey and managed their care under Rita's watchful eyes.
2011 - Rita rescued 11 baboons from a laboratory and entrusted the now Assisting managing Director, Samantha with their integration. Stephen over-saw the integration project and most of the baboons were successfully integrated into a social troop - those which were psychologically disabled chose to live their life in pairs.
2012: Rita died tragically and suddenly in a fire on 27 July 2012 - her legacy lives on and she left the centre in the hands of her trusted right-hand man, Stephen Munro who is dedicated to the baboons.
Keep Rita's Legacy Alive, Help Baboons Thrive
Rita with Mandela & Veterinarian Nthethe During a Baboon Release, 2002
C.A.R.E.'s founder, Rita Miljo (1931-2012) was a true hero for the baboons of South Africa, dubbed, the Diane Fossey of the baboon world. Her reputation was that of a fiery, passionate, determined and strong woman, and for sure she was all that and more. Rita died suddenly in a tragic fire which stole the lives of her and 3 baboons.
On the night of 27 July 2012 a fire broke out in Rita’s apartment, above the vet clinic and baby nursery. Alerted by the flames, the staff and volunteers ran to assist, but were turned back by the intense heat, unable to help Rita or Bobby (the first baboon that Rita ever rescued). The brave action of the staff ensured the evacuation of all 34 of the patients in the downstairs clinic and the young baboons sleeping in the down stairs nursery.
Rita and Bobby were laid to rest together in the same grave at C.A.R.E.
Rita’s childhood in Germany was enriched by her love of animals, and at the end of the war she hoped to study to be a vet. Circumstances did not permit this, and despite her family’s misgivings, she took a job at the Hagenback Zoo in Hamburg.
The lure of Africa and a chance to experience a great adventure prompted her to move to South Africa in 1953. So began a love of the bush and its wildlife, culminating in her buying a small farm adjacent to the Kruger National Park.
Her life took a tragic turn in 1972 when her husband and teenage daughter were killed in a light aircraft accident. It was to become Rita’s yardstick for difficulties in her life – whenever obstacles appeared she would say it was easy to deal with them as she had already had ‘the worst day of her life’.
The introduction of Bobby, a young female baboon, into Rita’s life was to play a significant role in her future. Whilst visiting South West Africa, Rita found the abandoned baby in an abused, malnourished condition. The little orphan touched her heart and was brought back to South Africa cuddled up on her knee. In the late 1980’s when Rita decided to relocate to her small farm next to the Olifants River, Bobby went too.
Word of Rita’s baboon and miscellaneous menagerie of animals soon reached the local community, and people started bringing injured, orphaned, and abused animals to her, asking for assistance. Despite being in the heart of the wildlife and game park area of the country, there was no other rehabilitation facility - the Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education (C.A.R.E.) was born, becoming an all consuming passion in Rita’s life.
The “Baboon Lady” soon had a collection of little primates, and started to question what to do with them as they grew older. Observing the wild baboons in the area, Rita became familiar with troop dynamics. It was apparent that individuals could not be integrated easily, and the idea of releasing a self sustaining, fully functional troop back into the wild began to take shape.
Rita’s attempts to find a suitable place to release her animals was met with fierce opposition from government Nature Conservation authorities. However, she persevered, finally securing a suitable site, and successfully reintroduced her orphaned troop back to the wild. This was the first of numerous releases over the years.
As word of Rita’s centre grew, so, many more orphaned baboons were brought to her for rehabilitation and nurturing, turning C.A.R.E. into the largest baboon centre worldwide.
For the past twenty years Rita’s life was dedicated to fighting for the baboons. Her quest has not been an easy one, she fought prejudice and ignorance, never shy to question authority and follow her beliefs.
As she pointed out “Ghandi once said that the measure of a civilised society was how they treated their animals. Is an animal only valuable once it becomes endangered?”
Her incredible journey dedicating herself to the chacma baboon’s cause was started by an act of kindness to one individual - Bobby – over 30 years ago. In an ironic twist of fate, a journey that started together also ended together.
In the last few years Rita had moved Bobby to her own ‘retirement flat’ – an enclosure on the deck of Rita’s first floor apartment.
On the night of 27 July 2012 the devastating flames claimed Rita's life. She is gone, but her fiery passion lives on in all those who were inspired by her. Rita entrusted her life's work to Scottish-born, Stephen Munro who carries her legacy on into the future. She left the property upon which C.A.R.E. is built to Stephen, who she trusted dearly.
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