AN ARMY veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder has taken part in a unique project with orphaned rhinos to tackle her trauma.

Jennifer Jessey, who served for 12 years in the Adjutant General’s Corps including tours to Afghanistan and Iraq, flew over to South Africa to take part in an initiative called Footprints of Hope in November.

The project, led by UK-based Veterans for Wildlife charity to combat poaching and sponsored by Lord Ashcroft, saw the Perham Down mother-of-two visit the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary for two weeks.

The 28-year-old was diagnosed with the disorder in January 2017 and has been medically discharged. She will officially leave the Army in March.

Jennifer said: “It was a, really good experience, I came back off it a different person with a different way of looking at things.

“It’s been interesting learning that animals react to trauma in a similar way to human beings.

“A rhino was assigned to us, they found you a rhino that has been through a similar trauma [to you], and had a psychologist talk through what we had been through and what the rhino had been through to try and link it.”

Jennifer, who joined the forces aged 16, was one of five veterans out on the project working with animal-assisted therapy and was partnered with baby rhino Sophia.

The rhinos had been orphaned after their mothers had been killed by poachers.

Jennifer heard about the project via an online advert, and said the support since coming back has not stopped as the five-strong team have continued to speak each day.

After four weeks from her return from the South African experience, Jennifer also secured a new job in the finance sector in London and will be starting in the near future.

Jennifer added: “It’s scary to think about a new career. But I now feel I have the confidence and the tools to move forward: to go out into the world and be OK.”

The five veterans were monitored by a clinical psychologist and they say early findings show they have all benefitted.

Lord Ashcroft, formerly treasurer and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said that he has sponsored the project because of his interest in both military veterans and wildlife conservation.

Lord Ashcroft, who travelled to South Africa to observe the project in action, said: “Without doubt, the veterans have benefitted enormously as, of course, have the rhinos that they looked after around the clock.

“Indeed they have helped each other with their respective healing processes.

“The five veterans are a courageous and determined group and my respect for them is immense. I certainly hope that their experiences have left them better equipped to face whatever challenges the future holds.”

Jennifer believes the 14-day trip was a way to focus on her progress without life’s day-to-day necessities getting in the way and she is encouraging other veterans to apply for the “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

Wes Thomson, a former Royal Marine and chief executive of Veterans for Wildlife, said: “In 2016, the poaching situation was really getting bad. At the time, one rhino was being killed every eight hours and one elephant every 15 minutes for their horn and tusks respectively. I knew people who could provide their skills and knowledge that they learnt during their time in the military.

“Our Footprints of Hope project came about because I realised that veterans with PTSD could do so much good – both for the rhinos and themselves.”

To find out more, go to