Phoenix resident Vaughn Stevens is a conservation hero.

The best part?

He’s only 10-years-old.

Why is he called, “The Rhino Ninja?”

The answer is both unique and inspiring.

“My son, Vaughn, was chosen to compete on the new show, ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior,’ a spin-off off of the extremely popular, ‘American Ninja Warrior,’” said Vaughn’s mom, Stephanie. “It will begin airing on Universal Kids Network in mid-October. But not only is he competing on a national television show, he is using this platform to raise awareness for rhino conservation.”

Vaughn came up with the idea to sell an official t-shirt and donate all of the proceeds to the International Rhino Foundation – an organization the Phoenix Zoo has a strong relationship with. Vaughn’s awesome sister, Ava, came up with the super fun design.

“The response Vaughn has received thus far has been amazing,” Stephanie said. “It’s such an exciting time for him. He raised over $1,500 during his first fundraiser! We don’t expect to raise that much again, but now that strangers are buying his shirt, we feel like we may reach more people and help more rhinos.”

Stephanie says Vaughn is an amazing young man and always educates those around him about the significance of rhinos and the threats they face (namely poaching). In fact, during the taping of “American Ninja Warrior Junior,” Vaughn convinced the producer to donate funds toward rhino conservation.

“Several of the professional ‘ninjas’ Vaughn met also bought his shirt,” Stephanie said. “He is so passionate about helping these amazing animals.”

When the Phoenix Zoo heard about Vaughn, we had to have him meet the stunning and gorgeous LouLou – our southern white rhinoceros! LouLou came to the Phoenix Zoo in March of 2017 and has been a guest-favorite ever since.

We hooked Vaughn and his family up with a Zoo tour and an in-depth talk from one of LouLou’s keepers, Brittany Phillips.

Brittany spent over an hour with Vaughn talking about the beautiful, intelligent LouLou and the Phoenix Zoo’s efforts in rhino conservation around the world. The Zoo is proud to support multiple rhino conservation efforts by raising funds to support programs in Africa and Asia. Our local chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers also works to raise funds to support rhino conservation every year during their annual Bowling for Rhinos event. The funds go directly to support programs that conserve rhinos through education, community support and wild population protection.

In addition, our Conservation & Science Grant Program has supported several projects related to rhinoceros conservation since the program began in 2009.

Brittany let Vaughn know how proud the entire Phoenix Zoo is of him and his quest to save rhinos.

Needless to say, it was a day Vaughn will never forget. 

“Zoos are important to Vaughn because that’s where he fell in love with rhinos,” Stephanie said. “We have visited the Phoenix Zoo annually and are so excited LouLou is there. Having the chance to speak with Brittany was really special, too. He loved hearing about LouLou’s feisty, smart personality. We visited the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2017 where Vaughn used his own Christmas money to purchase an excursion to see the rhinos up close. We purchased a rhino stuffed animal at the Zoo’s gift shop. When Vaughn got home, he made a special bed for ‘Louis’ that says, ‘No poaching.’

“This has been a dream come true for him.”

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Be sure to watch Vaughn’s journey on “American Ninja Warrior Junior” in October!
See Vaughn’s rhino conservation efforts on Facebook and Instagram.
You can purchase a “Rhino Ninja” shirt here.