Peter Esegon, 47, one of the primary rhino caretakers at the Ol Pejeta conservancy in central Kenya, relaxes with Najin and Fatu as the sun sets. (Photo by Justin Mott)

Esegon stands outside the fencing of the holding area for Fatu and Najin. He has worked at the conservancy for 20 years, and his job entails looking after and educating visitors about the rhinos. (Photo by Justin Mott)

Justin Mott, an American photojournalist living in Vietnam, has a passion for animals. Making a living by shooting primarily commercial photography, Mott is working on a long-term, self-funded project, Kindred Guardians, to document people all over the world who dedicate their lives to animal conservation.

The last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died in March 2018, leaving behind his daughter and granddaughter, Najin and Fatu, the last of their subspecies. Mott traveled to the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Laikipia County, Kenya, to document the lives of these two rhinos and the caretakers and armed guards who monitor them 24 hours a day.

Mott took an interest in the people who spend their days protecting these animals. The caretakers feed Najin and Fatu, as well as educate visitors about their dire situation. The guards, known as the National Police Reservists, or NPR, risk their lives daily to protect the rhinos from poachers who come after their valuable horns. Three poachers were killed last year in a gunfight with the NPR, according to Mott.

The men who work with Najin and Fatu take tremendous pride in their work. They spend more time with the rhinos than they do with their own families, staying at a camp in eyesight of the rhinos for 20 days at a time, with six days off between their tours at the conservancy.

Mott’s photos show the love these men have for the rhinos, whether it is a look of empathy in their eyes or a gentle touch on a rhino’s head. One can almost see the mutual trust shared between the prehistoric-looking giants and their caretakers. The rhinos are almost like pets. When the men call out their names, Mott said, they say them with care.

Despite the hard work of these people, Mott does not foresee a positive outcome for the future of northern white rhinos. Their only hope for survival is in vitro fertilization, which is expensive with no guarantee. Scientists began to collect the animals’ sperm in 2008, freezing it. Recently, the Associated Press reported that a test tube rhino embryo, fertilized in vitro, was successfully transferred into a female southern white rhino at Chorzow zoo in Poland. This could be a step forward for the survival of the northern white rhinos, but time is limited. Donations toward this effort can be made here.

Mott’s work from the Ol Pejeta conservancy, titled “No Man’s Land,” can be seen at Anastasia Photo in New York through September.


Photojournalist Justin Mott's new series focuses on the conservationists protecting animals around the world. (Photo by Justin Mott)

Peter Esegon relaxes with Najin as she takes a nap. The caretakers live away from their families at a small camp within eyesight of the rhino holding area for 20 days on and six days off. (Photo by Justin Mott)

Caretaker Zacharia Kipkirui, 41, casts a shadow on Najin. Kipkirui has worked at the conservancy for 14 years and has been with Fatu and Najin since they arrived in 2009. (Photo by Justin Mott)

Fatu and Najin sip water together in their holding pen at Ol Pejeta conservancy. (Photo by Justin Mott)

Members of the National Police Reserve patrol the fenced border of the conservancy. (Photo by Justin Mott)

Rain falls on Najin as she naps in her holding area. (Photo by Justin Mott)

Fatu and Najin graze. (Photo by Justin Mott)

Esegon visits the gravesite of Sudan, the last male white rhino in the world. (Photo by Justin Mott)

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