Baboon Conservationist Rita Miljo Dies in Fire at South African Wildlife Sanctuary

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On Friday night a fire swept through the headquarters at the Wildlife Sanctuary built by renowned Conservationist Rita Miljo, who rehabilitated and reintroduced baboons back into the wilds of South Africa. Miljo, 81, died, along with three of the baboons she so dearly loved.

Miljo was in her small apartment above the clinic of the Centre for Animal Rehabilitation & Education in the bush of Limpopo province, approximately 250 miles northeast of Johannesburg, said Karl Pierce, a director with the Sanctuary.

Bobby, the first battered Chacma baboon Miljo rescued and nursed back to health in 1980 was with her and also died in the fire, along with two other older baboons that stayed in her apartment, Pierce said.

The fire broke out around 8:00 p.m. on July 27, after all workers and volunteers left the centre for the day. No one else was injured in the blaze, which consumed the clinic, offices and a house on the property, according to

Rita Miljo was born in Germany in 1931 and came to South Africa in the 1950s. In a 2008 article about her inThe Washington Post Magazine, Miljo said helping baboons taught her "why people behave the way they do".

"Chimpanzees can be deceitful, just like humans, whereas baboons haven't learned that yet," she said at the time. "So what you learn from the baboons is the truth about yourself. Chimpanzees have already learned to find beautiful little excuses for their behavior," she told thePost.

Miljo nursed orphaned and injured baboons back to health, then developed humane methods of reintroducing entire packs of baboons back into the wild, the Centre said.

In 1994, the Centre successfully released ten hand-raised baboons back into the wild. A year later, 70% had survived and integrated back into the wild population, the Centre said proudly-- a success that amazed many who thought the human-cared-for baboons wouldn't be able to adjust.

Miljo is survived by a brother who lives in Botswana, Pierce said. Her first husband, Lothar Simon, and her 17-year-old daughter died in a plane crash in 1972.

Rita Miljo no longer ran day-to-day operations of the center, which cares for more than 400 baboons, but she remained a constant presence and a figurehead for the organization, according to the Centre.

In South Africa, baboons have a troublesome reputation. In Cape Town, baboons remain known for raiding cars and frightening tourists. Baboons are a protected species under South African legislation but their aggressive pursuits of food and human interference have led to conflicts with residents, reportsMailOnline.

When asked in 2008 where the body of one of the baboons she sheltered would be buried, Miljo offered a quick answer: 'I remember where each one is and that's where I'm going to be buried too.
It was a horrific blaze said one commenter, “They lost their entire Veterinary Clinic/Quarantine, the baby sleeping room, kitchen and all our fridges/freezer, medical equipment and computer/printer.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Video shows earlier photos and interviews the76-yr. old Rita Miljo raising the tiny baboon baby, Rosie.



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