Petronel Nieuwoudt, Founder and CEO of Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, grew up on a farm in Limpopo, where she learned the importance of hard work, perseverance, and kindness from her parents. After joining the Endangered Species Protection Unit of the South African Police Service (ESPU) in 1991, she rose to the rank of Captain before founding The Game Capture School, which offered training courses in the capture, treatment, and management of wildlife. Petronel then went on to found and develop Sondela Wildlife Centre in Bela Bela (2005-2007) and Tamboti Wildlife Centre in Mookopong (2007 – 2010), where she worked with various wildlife species, including antelope, buffalo, cats, giraffe, raptors, and reptiles.
In April 2011, Petronel moved from Limpopo to the province of Mpumalanga and founded Care for Wild Africa, a rehabilitation centre for all African indigenous wildlife. In 2012, the sanctuary received its first orphan rhino, followed shortly by four others. This led Petronel to search for a bigger property to establish a purpose-built facility for the successful care and rewilding of the animals under rehabilitation.
Petronel and her small team of staff and volunteers, began to build bomas to house the growing number of orphaned rhinos. From humble beginnings, Petronel started with very little, just two small buildings and a barn. Through an immense amount of hard work and determination Care for Wild has grown into a world-leading rehabilitation facility.
The poaching crisis in South Africa continued to escalate and in 2014, South African National Parks (SANParks) asked Petronel to partner with them to aid in the rescue, rehabilitation and protection of orphans. Despite the enormity of the responsibility, Petronel accepted and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed. As word spread of the sanctuary's rescue and conservation efforts, donations and offers of equipment, labour, and volunteers came flooding in and Petronel applied to register the sanctuary as a non-profit organisation in 2014.
With a steadfast commitment to community-focused and sustainable initiatives, Petronel has consistently envisioned a future for Care for Wild that prioritises biodiversity conservation. This visionary project has generated numerous opportunities for the local community, addressing a wide range of socio-economic challenges. Petronel firmly believes that protecting rhinos extends beyond the preservation of these majestic creatures alone, as it also safeguards ecosystems, uplifts communities, and ensures a brighter future for generations to come.