A Remarkable Rhino Rescue: Part 2

Jan 20, 2017 Conservation
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Last week we published the first part of the remarkable rhino calf rescue conducted by the Wilderness Safaris and Botswana team. The young calf and mother were reunited and we were left wondering about what would happen next… Would the young animal survive in the boma? What were the extent of its injuries? Would it recover enough to be released? These questions and more were top of mind in the weeks that followed.

We caught up with Michael Fitt, Wilderness Safaris Botswana Sustainability Coordinator, who sent us a detailed update on the calf and mother’s condition after they had spent two full weeks in the boma.

Michael’s report:

Mother: Adult Female Black Rhino: Tshono

  • Condition: Condition is good. 4.5/5 .
  • Feeding: She is eating well. Polishes one bale of Lucerne per day and most of the boskos given. We are mixing a good level of browse into her Lucerne to encourage browse feeding as being a South African rhino she is very partial to the Lucerne before moving to browse species.
  • Behaviour: Being from a private farm in South Africa she has probably undergone several boma experiences, so for the most part she is very relaxed and has settled into our boma routine. We have yet to observe any significant adverse behaviour that would suggest boredom or depression.

 Calf: Male Black Rhino

  • Estimates put the calf at two weeks old on capture, however after consultation with South African vets we believe the calf may have been a week old at the time, meaning he is now three weeks old.
  • Condition: On capture the calf required significant rehydration and was in poor condition. Since then it has improved greatly, putting on body weight and appears more rounded.
  • Feeding: While we did see a considerable amount of suckling for the first week in the boma, this has slowed and is not as regular. It is possible that he has recovered health and is now not needing to feed as much (or feeds more during the night as the days are quite hot). After many days of searching I finally found his dung, which is reassuring.

  • Injuries: The remaining parts of his ears are healing quite well. We managed to get in about six days ago to respray them, but have not done so since then, as the mother was quite aggressive after that. We had an issue with oxpeckers about four days ago as they had opened up the stitches. But despite seeing the oxpeckers since then, they do not appear to have bothered the ears again. We will keep tabs on this.

  • Front Right Leg: His limp is still quite pronounced, but he is able to put more weight upon the leg. He is able to walk and run if necessary. I think the more he moves the stronger he gets, and of course his improved condition has no doubt improved his strength.
  • Behaviour: For most of the day he sleeps or rests. He is able to do this on either side of his body. In the last four days we have observed significant increase in his mobility. For three days now he has been picking up bits of browse and moving them around in his mouth. Unable to break them or chew them properly he then spits them out. I assume he is copying his mother and perhaps teething a bit. I have now observed him actively move about the boma away from his mother, mostly walking, but have also seen him run by choice. He had always moved faster if something spooked him, or his mother left him behind, but now he runs by choice.
  • He is easily spooked by outside stimulus and will then find comfort next to his mother. Loud noises, quick movement, people he does not recognise, or different smells scare him.
  • He is not very vocal, only squeaking when he loses his mother or when he is very scared. (The most vocal he got was when I was spraying his ears).

Other factors:

  • The mother has damaged certain parts of the boma which we have repaired as necessary. This included the shade when we were spraying the calf’s ears.
  • The weather has gotten very hot again in last two days. During this time I made a mud wallow and tried to spray cool water over them. The mud wallow was not utilised and the spray made the mother aggressive so this was stopped. When George and Kyle get back in I think we will try to improve the shade net in the back two pens for them as we need more hands to achieve this.
  • I am a bit worried that the mother may become bored or despondent in time. She already barely reacts to general stimulus.. If she fails to stand with ‘encouragement’ we may be starting to look at a ‘depressed’ rhino in which case she will need to be released as soon as possible. This will force us to make hard choices about the calf. I do not think there is a need yet to panic about this, but we must be aware that with a prolonged boma time this may become an issue.
  • As usual the staff at Mombo have been very accommodating and the Back of House team has helped greatly with tyres, vehicles and water provision. As such we are of course very grateful.

Stayed tuned for the next thrilling instalment complete with video footage of both mother and calf!

Written and Photographed by Michael Fitt, Wilderness Safaris Botswana Sustainability Coordinator

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