Heartbreaking yet rewarding work to raise orphaned rhino calves whose mothers are brutally killed by poachers in South Africa.
“You can deliver it yourself if you like.”
We were at Patrick Jordan’s office in Hoedspruit with 10,000 ZAR for the rhino orphanage. Rhino orphanages are not open to the public. For one, these traumatized rhino calves are kept away from unnecessary human contact. The goal is to return them to the wild once old enough. Secondly, keeping these young ones safe is top priority. With rhino poaching running rampant in South Africa even rhino calves with tiny horns are sadly at risk. (A couple of months before our visit the security of another rhino orphanage was breached with deadly results.)
When Patrick invited us to personally deliver the donation to Natalie at the orphanage we were thrilled. Patrick quickly went over the rules. No disclosing where the center is located. No video or photos of the rhino calves.
After going through two security gates we met Natalie. A lovely young woman with a heavy responsibility on her shoulders. After watching a video about the Rhino Revolution Orphanage it was off to the clinic.
The clinic is the point of entry for a newly admitted calf. Depending on the size and condition they are assigned to a certain room. The most traumatized and wounded rhino calves go into ICU. This room has padded walls. Rhino calves frequently arrive very frightened and want to break through the wall and run away. A human companion is with the little one until it settles down. It takes about 24 to 48 hours for it to do so. Then it will take a bottle. “Once the fear subsides a rhino calf is desperate to replace the bond it had with its mummy,” says Natalie. However, some like traumatized humans will sadly suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress and need extra love and care.
The New Bond
In the wild a baby rhino is always touching its mother. So when the mother is killed by poachers it is very traumatic. Part of stabilizing the young orphan is to quickly replace that bond with a human… temporarily. As soon as feasible the transition is made to bonding with other rhino calves at the orphanage.
Young white rhino are very communicative and social, again something we rarely are privy to see in the wild. When on a game drive mother and youngsters are on alert.
Typically a rhino calf stays with its mum for three years. At this time she usually gives birth to another calf and the older one is “fledged” and moves away.
In rehab it’s a similar process. First, close bonding with their carerer (surrogate mother), then the other rhino calves are included. Finally, withdrawal of human contact. Of course while in rehab they require checkups and monitoring, but the objective is to get the bond between the rhino calves to become primary.
The Rehab Challenge
One of the challenges in the rehabilitation of rhino calves is timing… when to introduce them into the wild. In the safety of the orphanage they have no experience around adult rhino or predators like lion. They’ve had no one to teach them how to react appropriately.
Since our visit with Natalie, five of their rhino calves have been released to a semi wild situation. In this large protected area there is other wildlife. However, no other rhinos. That will be the last step. To finally relocate them to a reserve where they will find other rhino and wild situations. Typically this is when the rhino calves are around three years old. The same age their mum would be sending them off to fend for themselves.
The Big Deal
While in rehabilitation the care and attention necessary is far more than we realized. From dealing with the trauma of losing their mother to finding the right formula mix to feed them for the first eighteen months (Feeding costs run around 15,000ZAR/$1,200 per month.) Then there are the medical expenses and what has become THE most expensive nowadays… security. Keeping the little ones and the growing youngsters safe from potential poachers. Giving these rhino calves a second chance is a big deal… a commitment of money, time and lots of love.
Our thanks go to Natalie and her team at the rhino orphanage… without them many more rhino calves would be lost. Because of them, to-date five young rhino are getting a taste of rhino life… with hope for full release in their future.