Story of Andatu Aug14


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Story of Andatu


A PTA mom/journalist tells how an Indonesian rhino became the hero of a book by elementary schoolchildren in Brooklyn, New York.

A new children’s book, One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu, written and illustrated by fifth graders at the P.S. 107 John W. Kimball Learning Center in Park Slope, Brooklyn, celebrates the 2012 birth of a Sumatran rhino—and takes up his cause.

If there’s a rhino that deserves his own memoir, then surely it’s Andatu, born at the Way Kambas sanctuary in Indonesia. It’s almost impossible to overstate his importance. After extensive breeding efforts, he was the first Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity in Indonesia, and he offers hope for his species.

Andatu Sumatran Rhinoceros

Andatu, the first Sumatran rhinoceros born in captivity in Indonesia, checks out the book about him. (credit: Bill Konstant / International Rhino Foundation)

Since 2007, an exploding black market for rhino horn, mistakenly coveted by Asian cancer sufferers and virility seekers, has led to rampant poaching.

The Sumatran is the most critically endangered of the five remaining rhino species. Scientists estimate that there may be no more than a hundred left in the world, a decrease of 50 percent in 20 years.

Andatu Sumatran Rhinoceros

A captive Sumatran rhinoceros and her calf enjoy a meal of tree branches. (Credit: Joel Sartore / National Geographic)

“Andatu’s not one in a million—he’s one in a hundred,” says Bill Konstant, program officer for the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), which is dedicated to survival of rhinos through conservation and research. “He [represents] one percent of the population. If you do the math, his importance is very high.”

Bill Konstant with Harapan, Sumatran Rhino at Cincinnati Zoo

Bill Konstant with Harapan, Sumatran Rhino at Cincinnati Zoo. Bill took the opportunity to speak to Cincinnati’s American Association of Zoo Keepers chapter about ways to help support the protection of wild rhino populations. (credit: The International Rhino Foundation Blog)

Our school’s embrace of Andatu and the Sumatran rhino cause began in 2012, when I caught sight of a notice about the IRF’s annual Cinco de Rhino fund-raising event.

I have a kindergartner enrolled in P.S. 107, and although a full-time journalist, I had a lull between deadlines, so I spent a morning and afternoon outside the school, with a primitively designed rhino collection jar.

By day’s end, I had more than $500 in change. That effort attracted another parent. In short order we were running a PTA committee called Beast Relief, which had the slogan “Be part of something big.”

We also had a goal: to take concrete steps to help animals near and far, while teaching P.S. 107 children about the importance of wildlife conservation.

Pitching In

The parents who joined us included a senior writer for the Wildlife Conservation Society, a former volunteer with the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, and savvy designers and marketers.

We began doing art projects that involved the whole school. The children made Javan rhino piggy banks out of recycled coffee cups and holders. We made a video, The Secret Lives of Rhinos, available on YouTube, with Andatu as the narrator (a fourth grader serves as his voice).

The IRF’s Konstant came to our school for a viewing and to address the children.

“We don’t get contacted by a lot of schools, so this stood out right from the start,” he said, adding, “Hundreds of elementary school kids [in Brooklyn] think that saving Sumatran rhinos has to be done. That’s inspirational.”

Given how much the kids loved Andatu, Konstant and I agreed that a book was next.

Andatu Rhino Book

Book: “One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu

Though every moment of the school day is taken up with teaching and testing demands, our animal-loving principal Eve Litwack and a dedicated fifth-grade teacher Dominique Freda managed to carve out the time.

We divided up all 84 fifth graders into groups of writers, illustrators, and designers. The IRF provided research materials. And we parceled out the topics: poachers, Indonesia, Andatu’s extended family.

Kids’-Eye View

We encouraged the children to write from Andatu’s perspective, to put themselves in his hooves. Quickly, Andatu’s plight gripped their imaginations and transformed their viewpoints from skeptical to passionate.

Fifth grader Owen Bryson recalled thinking, “This is going to be terrible. I have to do every homeroom period just to write a stupid book.” But as he delved into it, he came to a different conclusion: “Rhinos are just like us. They liked their mamas and wanted to play with them. To think they were going extinct, it was just sad, and we wanted to help them.”

Eve Litwack

Eve Litwack

Whimsical and poignant, the book offers a kids’-eye view of the poaching crisis. With photographs and illustrations, the book also details the everyday pleasures of rhino life: eating, wallowing in mud, hanging out with mom, and eating some more. “I ate so much, in a year I went from 60 pounds at birth to over 900 pounds,” Andatu says in the book.

“When there are so few of us,” Andatu says, “it’s hard to find friends to play with. This is sad to me. So I’m here to tell you about my life and ask for your help.”

“If I could tell Andatu something, I’d tell him how many people are trying to save him,” says Katy Tanzer, a fifth grader who helped write and illustrate the book.

Inspiring Advocates

The enthusiasm extended even to the neighborhood. For several years, Chris Eastland, a cofounder of Zooborns, had been passing by our Beast Relief committee’s Cinco de Rhino signs and was intrigued. He ended up helping to design and format the book.

In the run-up to our now annual Cinco de Rhino spare-change drive in May, to benefit IRF, a number of schoolkids ran lemonade stands to raise extra money. This year, we cleared more than $3,000.

Rhinoceros Andatu

After wallowing in mud, a captive Sumatran rhinoceros and her calf take a stroll. (credit: Joel Sartore / National Geographic)

We hope the book will inspire other students and schools to join the fight to save rhinos and endangered wildlife. Children can be powerful wildlife advocates: They have curiosity and compassion in abundance, know an injustice when they see it, and love the animals without compromise.

“It’s refreshing to read a non-political, non-bureaucratic account about a species that is really on the brink of extinction,” Konstant says. “Too often we’re dealing with the inertia of governments, of cultures, of populations that don’t allow us to express the essence of our feelings about these animals. When kids speak, they speak from the heart and get to the point quickly.”

Source: Katherine Eban / National Geographic

The Secret Lives of Rhinos



At the PS 107 John W. Kimball Learning Center in Park Slope, the fifth-graders have gone “rhino mad” with animal activism – and they have the book to prove it.

Andatu is a Sumatran rhinoceros that was born in 2012 at a sanctuary in Indonesia. Poachers, getting rich off the false belief that rhinoceros horns have health benefits, have decimated his species; Andatu is now one in only 100 Sumatran rhinoceros left in the world. The fifth-graders at PS 107 don’t think that’s right and are speaking up for Andatu through their new book One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu.

“They really feel like Andatu is their rhino,” says Katherine Eban, co-chair of Beast Relief, the PTA committee at PS 107 that helped the fifth-grade class produce the book. “They’ve gone ‘rhino mad!’”

Andatu Rhino Book

Fifth-graders (from left to right) Gaia Gambboa, Owen Bryson, Matthew Pisano, Tess Lovell, and Katie Tanzer pose with “One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu after a reading for younger students at PS 107. (credit: Lizzie Jenkins /

Beast Relief was founded in 2012 when Eban, currently a contributing journalist for Fortune magazine and mother of a second-grader at PS 107, was disturbed by the rhino-poaching crisis. She shared her concern with other parents, including now co-chair Heather Millward, and they decided to create Beast Relief.

Eban says they intended for Beast Relief “to be an animal welfare committee in which we were going to try and inspire in the kids a desire to take care of wildlife and the importance of conservation.”

The PS 107 students first became involved in animal activism through efforts such as making the video The Secret Lives of Rhinos. Beast Relief and PS 107 school officials felt making a book about Andatu would be a great way for the students to make a lasting difference while gaining some skills along the way.

Dominique Frieda, the fifth-grade reading teacher responsible for many of the organizational efforts of the project, says working on the book has taught the students that, “when you feel passionately about something and you want to get the word out there, you don’t have to wait for an adult to do it.”

The fifth-graders’ work on One Special Rhino also coincided with their nonfiction reading section, Frieda says. Between 15 to 20 students participated in the research and the writing of the book while the rest of PS 107’s 85 fifth-graders made illustrations of Andatu to be included in the book. Frieda says the project helped the students understand the value of nonfiction literature and see it as more than something a teacher makes you read. She said the project also taught them skills the students would use for the rest of their lives.

“They learned a lot about working together and collaborating,” Freida says.

The Beast Relief committee took the students’ writing and illustrations and pieced them together to create a cohesive narrative. The committee reached out to Chris Eastland, Brooklyn-based author of the Zooborns series of children’s books about baby animals, who helped in the production of the book. Both the children and the adults, says Frieda, were happily surprised with how professional-looking the book turned out.

“They were able to publish a book that’s amazing, that I can see people buying though the years,” Frieda says.

One Special Rhino: The Story of Andatu is available on Proceeds from the book will go directly to the International Rhino Foundation to help endangered rhinoceroses like Andatu.

Source: Lizzie Jenkins /