Elisa Best, a referral practitioner at Rowe Veterinary Referrals in Bristol, has received a 'Vet of the Year' award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) at the House of Lords, for her work getting members of the public to support centres rescuing rhinos and other threatened African wildlife.

Elisa, pictured right next to Bill Oddie, is the founding member of a craft conservation charity called Blankets for Baby Rhinos. In less than three years the group has amassed a Facebook community of around 3,500 members, primarily knitters, crocheters and crafters, to make blankets and other items to supply to wildlife centres taking in orphaned and sick rhinos in Africa, as well as other wildlife threatened by poaching.

Originally from South Africa, Johannesburg-born Elisa had planned to work as a vet treating wildlife but found herself working in small animal practice in Cape Town before moving to the UK.

Still, colleagues and friends often told her of the injuries they saw inflicted on rhinos targeted for the illegal trade in their horns, so she and a friend decided to help. 

After building a following and supplying thousands of blankets for a growing number of wildlife orphanages in Africa, she wanted to harness the enthusiasm of members to help meet the other practical needs of the centres, as well as helping rangers and dogs working in anti-poaching units.

Now a registered charity, members supply all kinds of equipment including animal feed, medicine and veterinary supplies to a wide list of centres, as well as food for anti-poaching dogs while continuing to run appeals which crafters can assist with. Currently they are asking knitters to knit hats, scarves and blankets in black or dark colours for rangers, so they can keep warm at night without being spotted by poachers.

James Sawyer, UK Director of IFAW, said: "Elisa’s pioneering approach to harnessing practical public support to help rhinos and other rescued African wildlife is really impressive and she is a great example of animal welfare in action. We hope her efforts will inspire the next generation of animal welfare and conservation campaigners. She is a very deserving winner of IFAW’s Vet of the Year Award."

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