Fayette siblings team up to rescue animals

Youngsters work to save environment for rhinos, other species.

By Christopher Quinn

Carter and Olivia Ries are pretty young to be practicing in-your-face politics.

The 12- and 10-year-old Fayette County siblings mailed a box of toenail and fingernail clippings and cut hair gathered from local salons to the Chinese embassy in Washington to make a point.

The students, who began a campaign to save rhinos from being hunted to extinction, learned in their studies that rhino horn is believed to contain medical and restorative properties in Chinese culture, and that many of the poached horns end up being sold in that country, ground up and added to food.

They also learned that a rhino horn is made of the same stuff that human hair and fingernails are.

“They put it in soup and water and eat it and think it cures cancer and makes you look

younger, which it really does not,” Olivia said.

“We told them to put that (toenails) in the soup and eat it,” Carter, 12, said.


“We didn’t get a response.”

They hope this week to get a better welcome from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs when the two hand-deliver more than 10,000 letters from children around the world, pleading with the government to do more to stop the poaching.

“Last time we were in South Africa, we didn’t see that many rhinos,” Carter said.

South Africa?

That’s a long story. In a nutshell, an aunt of these two Montessori students paid for them to “adopt” cheetahs in Africa as a gift, which turned them on to endangered species.

Olivia started crying when she learned about cheetahs being killed and dying from problems such as loss of habitat.

Jim Ries, their dad, said his wife, Lauren, looked him in the face at that point and said in a way that only husbands understand, “OK. Now you better fix this.”

So they began to talk about ways to help. Jim told them if they were serious, they would study and learn about the problems for the next 14 days straight.

The kids, to his surprise, did.

Then the Gulf oil spill hit in 2010 and Carter and Olivia wondered what they could do. The kids traveled to churches and schools collecting supplies to help clean oiled feathers and shells and skin and headed off to the Gulf to deliver the goods.

That’s where a scientist taught them that plastic pollution, floating bags and cups and toys, is a major killer of sea life.

These two developed a presentation and then a teaching curriculum about plastic pollution and gave it to everyone from local schools to Boy Scouts to 2,700 United Methodist pastors at an annual convention in Mississippi. Then, with the help of parents and friends, they started the nonprofit One More Generation, or OMG, to help wildlife survive at least one more generation.

They raised money for the trip to South Africa last December where they visited conservation nonprofits, but did not see many rhinos, which brings us back to the start of this story, which is certainly not the end of it. OMG is partnering with nonprofits such as musician Jack Johnson’s Ohana Charitable Foundation to raise money for animal and anti-pollution causes.

When not actually saving the world themselves, Carter and Olivia spend time getting the word out to places like CNN and Huffington Post. Eventually, Olivia wants to be a veterinarian and own an animal sanctuary. Carter would like to be an inventor of things Olivia could use at the sanctuary.

Oh, and he wants to tell you, the reader, this: “If you have a passion, you have to go for it, or it’s not going to happen.”