A CONSERVATIONIST who swapped his Colchester surroundings for a life saving rhinos in South Africa is set to feature in a documentary.

Will Shortridge, 25, has spent two-and-a-half years working at Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, in Mpumalanga, where he helps to rehabilitate abandoned, injured and orphaned rhinos.

It took a short stint volunteering at the sanctuary, the largest of its kind in the world, to persuade Will his future belonged to conserving the endangered species.

Will grew up in Kelvedon and undertook a diploma in animal management at Otley College in Suffolk.

He then worked as a zookeeper at Colchester Zoo.

After volunteering at Care for Wild in 2018, he soon decided he would move to South Africa to take up a permanent position.

Common targets for poaching, there are only about 18,000 white and 5,500 black rhinos left.

“It was an animal that I’d never really met properly before, I didn’t know a lot about them before my work experience and it opened my eyes to what they are really like,” said Will.

“You might see them on kids’ TV programme and they come across as angry creatures, or aggressive.

“In reality they are lovable animals, full of heart, which look for comfort.”

His time in South Africa has vastly changed his perspective on life.

“Of course, it’s very different, the first thing is you really start to realise what is most important,” he said.

“For example water - at the end of winter the water isn’t running here and the only water you can get is underground.

“I might be on social media while out in the bush and see what other people look at as problems, and you think ‘Are they really?’

“If you can’t buy an iPhone, it’s not really an issue, there’s a lot of people with a lot less.

“You see it here, people in communities who are so happy just to have basic things.”

Will’s role at the sanctuary is as quarantine manager, testing and checking the animals as they come in.

“Any animals coming in from Kruger National Park have to go into a quarantine area as Kruger has a tuberculosis issue,” he said.

“There is an age range from five months, as soon as they come out of critical care, to ten years old.

“I’ll sometimes need to give them injections, or draw blood.

“To have to test a fully grown adult that was in the wild is crazy, to have this two tonne animal that respects you and doesn’t want to kill you - it is an incredible feeling.

“To have that trust with the babies, to have that bond where they look to you for care, they will come over and say hello in the morning as they wander past.

“They get to the age of around three-years-old and that’s when we start social distancing away from them to allow them to become proper rhinos.

“We don’t want them to be accustomed to being near people, remembering the threat of poachers.

“We want them to be able to survive on their own.”

But the park has an overarching aim of integration and support within the wider community, building trust and connections to further conservation efforts.

Will explains: “There is outreach to help sustain the community around the rhinos.

“Protecting the rhinos properly depends on everyone doing their bit, so we have people working on the farm, on the sanctuary and outside, all committed to benefitting each other.

“The hope is if anyone bad is coming around, like poachers, it wouldn’t be difficult to get information.

“People want to protect these creatures.”

Will is set to appear in an episode of the Channel 4’s Work on the Wild Side, a 20-part series which began on Monday.

It follows vets and volunteers who gave up their jobs in the UK to move to South Africa to rescue some of the world’s most endangered animals.

Will’s episode will air on Wednesday, May 27.