- Eight-year-old Aylssa Carter has started her own campaign to protect rhinos from poaching
- The Johannesburg primary school pupil has raised over $23,000
- Her money will train sniffer dogs as part of a new campaign to stop poachers
(CNN)Even two-tonne, spike-horned, armor-skinned rhinos need a helping hand sometimes.
Fortunately, they can rely on one committed defender: eight-year-old Alyssa Carter.
"When I heard that rhinos were being killed, they were my favorite animals and I wanted to start this," says the elementary school pupil. Her campaign, Alyssa's Save the Rhinos, has raised thousands of dollars to protect her favorite animal -- South Africa's poacher-threatened rhinoceros -- and fund an innovative scheme aimed at tracking the hunters who would do them harm.
Carter, South Africa National Parks one-and-only "Rhino Champion," sells homemade chocolates for 10 rand ($0.85) at her school. So far, she has raised over $23,000 through a combination of chocolate sales and donations from the growing number of people -- young and old -- who have filled halls to hear the young campaigner speak.
It all started in May 2013 when Carter -- then aged six-and-a-half -- came home from school and drew a picture: the same crayon image of long-horned rhino beneath a rainbow that is now stamped on her campaign's sweets and chocolate.
Her father, Brian Carter, says she'd been taught about the plight of endangered animals, and burst out crying when she heard rhinos were being butchered by poachers. At home that night, the family resolved to do something to help, settling on the chocolates as a good place to start.
Her father was her first customer. "Originally she just wanted to do something to help," he says. "The idea was to sell to anybody that would buy, so we started off by selling to friends and family, grannies and grandpas and people at church."
For over a year, she has been selling chocolates every Friday at her supportive Johannesburg primary school -- and has now grown her stall with rhino-branded lollipops, stickers, biltong, and a range of knitted rhino toys created by a well-wisher who had heard about her fundraising efforts.
Carter knows her most enthusiastic customers: singling out one particularly generous schoolmistress, Teacher Phuti, and an exceptionally sweet-toothed class of her schoolmates as her biggest supporters.
Dogs take bite out of poaching
"What Alyssa wanted to do was to give the money toward buying trained sniffer dogs to go into the Kruger National Park," says dad Brian. There, across an area the size of New Jersey, park rangers fight a desperate battle with poachers to prevent the extinction of the rhinoceros, whose horn is prized for its supposed value in traditional Asian medicines.
Highly trained canines are a new addition to the park, first arriving in 2012. "If they find a rhino lying dead, they can sniff out where the poachers are," explains Alyssa Carter -- allowing rangers track poachers, just as the poachers themselves stalk prey.
Dogs will soon patrol the park's entrance points, too, detecting weapons that poachers attempt to smuggle in, and contraband -- including rhinoceros horn -- being transported out.
At Kruger, South Africa's largest wildlife reserve, park authorities report an increase in contact with suspected poachers, with rangers claiming before Christmas that 164 had been arrested in the park over the year.
With each dog's purchase, training and kennel costs running to over $8,000 per dog, they aren't cheap, but the young "rhino champion" can now proudly boast to have already added two new K-9 enforcers to the battle.
But why rhinos? "They're nice and, with their big-horns, they look beautiful, and I like looking for them in the wild," explains Carter.
Before starting Alyssa's Save the Rhinos, the Johannesburg resident had never seen a rhinoceros in its natural habitat. Now, she's been to Kruger several times, she says -- on invitation to meet the park's other Honorary Rangers, on a few occasions, and recently visiting two sniffer dogs in training last summer.
She eagerly snaps photographs of every animal she sees in the park but rhinos hold a special place: "It's really nice because I know I'm doing something," she says. Carter says she keeps count of each of the rhino she sees -- and is up to "130-something," so far.
Carter is keen to talk to others about her experiences with rhinos, standing up in front of 700 students at a school in December, and nearly 300 adults at a development conference earlier that year. She says it's just as easy to talk to grown-ups as kids -- as long as her father is by her side.
The elder Carter says he wasn't involved in conservation before Alyssa started her campaign, and that the whole family has caught the young activist's enthusiasm. The ambition now is for Alyssa to talk at more corporate events, including business golf days where she has found success encouraging businesspeople to give to the cause.
"The bottom line is we need to raise more money," says Brian, "and we need to sell more chocolates."