Teen gives ‘new life’ to animal road kills

27 December 2017 - 09:46
By Nashira Davids
Francois Malherbe, when he was little, and his father Donnie who caught a mussel cracker.
Image: www.roadkillskeletons.co.za Francois Malherbe, when he was little, and his father Donnie who caught a mussel cracker.

When Francois Malherbe was four years old his mother followed a trail of ants leading to his bedside drawer. What she found would change their lives forever. It was stuffed with rotten carcasses‚ including fish and pigeons.

Little Francois‚ from Stellenbosch‚ did not kill the animals but he has always been fascinated by animal bones and started hoarding them. He even collected the chicken bones after polishing off the meat his father‚ Donnie Malherbe‚ recalled.

Today‚ at the age of 13‚ Francois collects the bodies of wild – road kills. He rebuilds the skeleton and showcases it on his own website - www.roadkillskeletons.co.za. On occasion‚ carcasses are donated to him.

With the help of his father and a Venter trailer they once travelled to the North West to collect a dead giraffe. And on December 15‚ the teenager added the skull of Hope - the baby rhino who made international headlines when she was attacked by poachers - to his ''Skeleton Park" exhibition at Butterfly World Zoo.

Last year TimesLIVE reported that Hope was maimed during a botched poaching. Medical professionals used surgery‚ reserved for humans‚ to save her but she died of an infection in November.

Now her skull is on display at the zoo in Stellenbosch to raise awareness about rhino massacres and Francois believes it will help the animal's plight.

Although he loved working on the giraffe's skeleton his favourite project was reconstructing an entire rhino‚ which took four to five months to complete.

"I find it exciting looking inside the animal‚'' said Francois‚ who is an avid sportsman and is considering becoming a surgeon. From removing the bone marrow to bleaching and assembling the skeleton‚ the father and son are self-taught - and with a little help from the internet.

Donnie‚ a chemical engineer‚ said when his wife Nicky first found the bones in their son's drawer she was hysterical. "She called me at work and said it was not hygienic‚ that it stinks and that [Francois] could get sick. We had a chat with him and said he could not have rotten animals in his drawer.''

As a family they work together to help Francois pursue his hobby. They drive around with a special air-tight bin in their car to store the dead animals they often come across when on holiday. His younger brother Nicholas‚ 11‚ does research on the animals and 17-year-old Ryan takes the photographs.

In addition to the exhibition at the zoo‚ they are often contracted by the Two Oceans Aquarium to assemble the skeletons of marine life.

Helani Briers‚ education manager at the zoo‚ said at first Francois skeletons were exhibited in a room but last year it received ''its place of honour'' in the entrance hall.

"Many of our visitors are young families and it is especially children that find the skeleton park fascinating. It's really an unusual‚ display and somehow not offensive at all ... like maybe a room full of stuffed animals might have been‚'' said Briers.

"The idea is that most of the animals died a senseless death do to cars‚ power lines or poachers‚ but now Francois give them 'new life' in a sense. ''

Francois has many dreams including reconstructing the skeleton of a warthog. "And I would love whale ribcage over my bed.''