Yukon doctor to trek deserts, mountains from Mexico to Canada, all for rhinos

Jo Devenish loves to hike. She also loves rhinos.

That second love began almost two years ago on a hiking trip in South Africa's Kruger National Park, only a few hours drive away from where Devenish grew up.

"We were lucky enough to see a rhino while we were hiking," said Devenish, a doctor in Dawson City, Yukon.

That night, huddled around a campfire, Devenish says she heard "some pretty horrific stories" about rhino poaching and mutilation.

"My love of wildlife has always been there, but [my love for] the rhino has been increasing since," said Devenish.

After years contemplating the trip, Devenish decided to combine her knack for the outdoors and her love for rhinos in a cross-country hike along the Pacific Crest trail.

She'll be fundraising for wildlife organizations along the way, donating a dollar of her own money for every kilometer she walks. She's also asking people to support her by contributing on her website: hike4rhinos.com. 

All proceeds will go to the Southern African Wildlife College and the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre — organizations involved with rhino conservation, education and caring for orphaned rhinos.

The route is 4,265 kilometres long and stretches from the U.S.-Mexican border in Campo, California, all the way to B.C.'s Manning Provincial Park.

Devenish will pass through 25 national forests, seven national parks and climb to 4,000 meters to get through Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

"The southern part of the hike is all desert… compared to once you reach the Sierra Nevadas which are mountains and snow," said Devenish.

The trip will take five months, she estimates, and it won't be easy.

 But she's no stranger to adventure. She's completed a multi-week sailing trip on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories and a three-month trip across East Africa in her multi-coloured Volkswagen Kombi van. She's also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and hiked in the Himalayas.

Plight of rhinos 'horrific'

Devenish hopes to raise awareness of the plight of the rhino with this latest hiking mission.

"There's some pretty horrific things that are taking place," said Devenish.

Rhinoceros horns are a highly valuable product in the black market, and demand has been increasing around the world.

It's "more expensive than gold," says Devenish. That's why it's become a "status symbol for the rich," she said. The horn is also used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Wildlife organizations estimate that 6,000 rhinos were killed in South Africa since 2008. There have been recent incidents of rhino poaching in a zoo in France and this month, a Czech zoo announced it will saw off horns of its rhinos to protect them from poachers.

"The horn is cut with a chainsaw," said Devenish, adding that rhino poachers often kill the rhino afterwards.

"These things are terrible," said Devenish.

Devenish begins her hike on April 27. People can track her progress on her website or on Facebook, where she will provide photos and updates every few days.