Caring for Orphaned Rhino
Every rhino is valuable, so it is vitally important that they are all protected. Rhino orphanages bring many benefits, perhaps most obviously in their key animal welfare and husbandry role. Every year that the poaching crisis continues, brings us closer to a tipping point where the number of rhinos being poached outnumbers live births. It is therefore crucial that we try to save every one of these beautiful animals.
“The Boucher Legacy continues to play a meaningful role in the war on Rhino poaching through its core pillars of Protection, Conviction & Education. Recently when we heard of the very sad loss of a mother Rhino on Olifants Nature Reserve, we agreed to partner with Olifants Nature Reserve to take care of her precious calf who we aptly named ‘Precious’. The poaching and decimation of this beautiful species continues to plague our country and others and leaves such trauma and grief behind for Rhino calves like this precious one. We remain committed to making a difference in conservation of Rhino and other endangered species like Pangolin.” – Alastair Hewitt, Co-Founder of The Boucher Legacy.
Many other orphaned rhinos are sheltered at the Rhino Orphanage in Limpopo. They share with us the reason why they are doing this work and some of their stories:
In 2010, when rhino poaching drastically escalated, there were no dedicated facilities to care for orphaned rhino. In July 2011, Arrie van Deventer, received a phone call from a neighbour who needed help to locate rhinos on his property after he was hit by poachers. The landowner lost two of his precious female rhino that night and what made it so much worse, a tiny calf was lethally shot in his right eye next to his mother. The second female also had a calf, only a few months old and left orphaned. Lucky for the calf she got away and eventually linked up with her older sister, who had a calf of her own. It seemed like she adopted her sibling, a lucky fate for this young rhino indeed. A month later in August, the same landowner was hit a second time. Another two rhino lost and the sister rhino, that adopted the little orphan, was missing. After flying for over an hour, and all hope in finding the three rhino lost, she appeared from a grove of trees, the last place Arrie, the owner and vet searched. That day Arrie returned to his staff at the Wildlife Centre he managed and vowed to build the world’s first rhino orphanage.
A year later, in August 2012, The Rhino Orphanage, the world’s first dedicated, non-commercialized centre for orphaned and injured rhino officially opened its doors. Not only to rhino, but to many other creatures that needed help, nurturing and love. The sole aim and purpose of the centre is to raise and rehabilitate the orphaned animals in such a way, that they can be returned to the wild one day, without becoming human-habituated, problem animals. Under the guidance and leadership of Arrie and orphanage “supervet”, Dr Pierre Bester, the orphanage “moms” Yolande, Janie and Zanre, along with their team of volunteers, provide the most loving, sensitive care to each and every orphaned rhino and creature, with a dedication and deep-seeded passion beyond the description of words. It is an emotional and challenging, but most rewarding job to each and every person working at the centre.
Here are some stories about the baby rhinos who have come to The Rhino Orphanage:
Over the years The Rhino Orphanage has rescued, treated, raised and rehabilitated many orphaned rhino and every baby brings its own challenges and teaches the team new aspects of rhino. Some of the stories are astonishing and heart-breaking…
When Thula was about six months old her mother was killed by poachers and Thula herself was shot in the poaching incident. It was believed that the bullet that hit her mom also went through her, hitting her high up in the shoulders, but luckily missing vital organs. The gunshot wound was however the least of her worries. Due to several factors, Thula’s eyes started forming ulcers and the iris in both eyes prolapsed. An eye specialist was called in to treat Thula and the prognosis was not good. They had to remove the right eye and Thula had lost her vision in the left. She was completely blind. On the operating table Thula stopped breathing but in a moment of grace, the amazing vet managed to bring Thula back. Thula quickly adjusted to her disability and formed a very close bond with Nenkani, following him everywhere. It was evident that Neni became Thula’s eyes. Thula can never return to the wild but along with Neni will remain in the safety of the orphanage.
In the early days in 2013, the orphanage team received a phone call about a tiny calf, roughly three weeks of age that was severely injured by poachers. The little calf was hit 21 times with a machete over the face neck and shoulders. The little girl had a 10% chance of survival but orphanage management didn’t hesitate to try and give her a chance. She was in severe pain and one of the gashes across her head exposed her brain tissue. In time, with lots of intensive care, the swelling subsided, the wounds started healing and Nthombi started recovering from her ordeal. It was evident however that the attack had some psychological impact as Nthombi was scared of men and terrified of cigarette smoke. Although she had such a small chance of surviving, Nthombi is over six years old today, showing that love can heal all wounds. She has been released back in the wild in a safe and secure area.
Mofalodi and Charlotte
Mofalodi, meaning survivor, arrived at the orphanage just over a year ago at the tender age of five months. Her mother was poached and the little calf was sighted late on a Friday afternoon next to her mother’s slain body. When the capture team arrived on the scene the little calf disappeared into thin air and because it was almost dark the search was called off for the night and taken up early the next day. Lolli, as she is known at the orphanage, was nowhere to be found but was spotted again two days later, an astonishing 7km from the carcass. Again she escaped and was lost, wandering through dangerous lion country for an additional two days, where she was sighted again, back at her dead mothers side. The capture team finally caught up with her and caught her after running an additional 5km. Exhausted, hungry and dehydrated little Lolli arrived at The Rhino Orphanage and the carers soon realised that Lolli wasn’t aggressive towards them. All she wanted was to have a heartbeat close to her. Lolli soon made a rhino friend at the orphanage as little Charlotte was brought in two weeks after Lolli. Charlotte was found in what was probably one of the saddest scenes witnessed by the team. Charlotte, barely eight weeks old was found crying and nudging her mom’s carcass and in her desperation, tried to suckle from her stone-cold and mutilated body. The little calf soon settled in at The Rhino Orphanage and has formed an incredibly strong bond with Lolli. One day when it is safe, they will be released back in the wild. If they will stay by each other’s side only time will tell.
The little ray of sunshine, one of the smallest calves admitted to The Rhino Orphanage, arrived on the passenger seat of a vehicle. He was estimated at 7 – 10 days old and covered in his mother’s blood. Out of hunger and desperation he tried to drink water, but in the process ingested a lot of mud. In the first couple of days the little guy couldn’t pass faeces without assistance and between 3kg and 4kg of clay came out altogether. Because he was so small he couldn’t be introduced to any other orphans at the time out of the fear that they would injure him. The carers became his crash, as they were with him day and night, sleeping with him, playing with him, teaching him to eat grass, taking him on bushwalks and of course dealing with his cheeky personality. By spring, after having only humans and a sheep as a companion the team had to take a major step and introduce Ray to a much older orphan. Kaytie was almost double his age and size and he was terrified of her. Where it normally takes one to three days for orphans to accept each other, the whole operation of getting Ray to accept Kaytie took over two weeks. Another orphan Lacy, whose mother’s carcass was never found, joined their crash and the two older girls started ignoring the tiny boy. Since then he was re-introduced to a rhino younger than him and he is happy and settled with Eve, an orphaned calf that lost her mom to poachers on New Year’s Eve.
The events that orphaned rhino calves go through and the terrible things they witness when their mothers are poached leaves a mark on their psyche. Usually when calves are brought to the orphanage, they will continue calling for their moms for about two days. It normally takes them anything from 12 – 48 hours to accept milk from a bottle or bucket. But not Davide, a male rhino calf that was brought to the orphanage in spring last year. Davide took the loss of his mother very hard and continued calling for her for almost 11 days. He also refused milk the longest of any of the young orphans and only took a bottle after seven days. Luckily because he was around eight months old and eating lots of dry food it kept him going. He did suffer episodes of hypoglycaemia initially but was maintained and is now part of Lolli and Lotti’s gang.
This is what Yolande and The Rhino Orphanage Team had to say about the work that they do:
Regardless of frustrations that come with the conservation industry and the current poaching crisis, we will never stop trying and never give up on the rhinos. Our passion keeps us going, sometimes 72 hours with only 4 hours of broken sleep. Once that baby is stabilized and you can hear the first greedy slurping sounds of them taking a bottle, when they go on their bushwalks and start running and playing like only baby rhinos can, it is all worth it. Every tear, every drop of sweat, every hit on the shins, every litre of milk mixed at 3am when the rest of the world is sleeping, every long night sleeping on the hard, cold ground or huddled next to a rhino in the rain, every failed attempt and every bittersweet release. Nothing can compare to the triumphs and the love we feel for these orphans.
We never release numbers of rhinos in our care for security reasons especially on social media, but we currently have five milk dependent babies. The calves remain on our property up until the age of 4-5 years, to ensure that they are able to defend themselves against other rhino, big game and predators. After weaning, all the rhinos are continuously monitored and fed dry food supplements and any ailments or injuries if they should occur are attended by our vet. We will only release them back into natural areas if we feel that it’s safe and secure.
Caring for a rhino, all aspects considered, could easily amount to R8000 – R12000 per rhino per month, depending on if they are drinking milk or weaned. That excludes of course large once-off medical bills like gastric surgery or eye operations, x-rays, darting for relocation and other bills when the calves are first admitted to the facility.
The Rhino Orphanage is based in Limpopo, South Africa and was founded by Arrie Van Deventer in 2012. The orphanage is the first specialist, dedicated, non-commercial centre for orphaned rhino calves requiring hand rearing and rehabilitation. To stay up to date with their work follow them on Facebook.