Rhino Water Colour

Understanding the Rhino Orphans’ Project


Being orphaned is a profoundly traumatic event and many orphans sustain physical and psychological injuries before our rescue teams arrive. Equipped with milk, stretchers to carry the orphan and vital medicines, including drips, our highly experienced team can offer immediate aid at the scene and throughout the rescue.

Young rhinos are fragile and at our fully protected Nursery, based in Nairobi National Park, our Keepers provide 24-hour attention and intensive care to orphaned calves.

Rhino Rescue


When rearing rhino orphans, as with elephants, it is important to replace the Mother Figure with several Keepers, to ensure the baby does not form too strong a bond with any one person, which would lead to problems should that individual be away for any reason. So, from the moment they arrive into our care, we rotate the Keepers, so that the rhino is willing to follow more than one person.

Rhinos are extremely vulnerable to predators, and so protecting the calf at night is paramount during the first three years. Initially in a small, secure stable to help the rhino feel safe, and as the baby grows in a more spacious stockade.

Throughout the day, rhino babies need to be bottle fed nutritious milk every four hours, but unlike elephants, they do not need feeding during the night. The last daily milk feed for a rhino orphan is at 6pm. Once the calf grows older and can begin to nibble on vegetation, it is time to place suitable cut greens (browse) within the stable at night and, at that point, to also offer a bowl of bran in which minerals are mixed as further dietary supplementation. As the calf is not fed at night it is not necessary for a Keeper to remain with the baby overnight, but instead it is important to place an article of a known Keeper's clothing in with the calf so that the familiar scent is there – rhinos are all about scent and territory.

Rhino Rehabilitation

Baby rhinos are incredibly playful animals, so exercise and play are vital to help calves grow strong, release energy, and to discover their environment further. Mud is an important part of good skin care for all animals that do not have fur, so it is necessary to take the calf to a mud wallow on warm days. Plastering the body in soft mud not only seals moisture in the skin, but it protects the animal from biting insects and the sun.

Once a baby outgrows his or her enclosed stable is the time to relocate the rhino orphan to a more spacious stockade at night, because large animals become claustrophobic if confined too closely. At this time it is vital to take their dung and use it to establish a dung pile within the new quarters, to aid a seamless process when changing up the routine from stable to stockade, as rhinos are creatures of habit and routine, and any break in routine is traumatic for them.


Raising rhinos is very different compared to elephants, where the reintegration process is a relatively straight forward affair given what social creatures elephants are. In the case of a rhino it becomes much more complicated; in fact, it is the reintegration process that is the most challenging period when raising an orphan rhino.

Right from the outset it is necessary to walk the calf around the dung piles and urinals of the established wild rhino community. This must happen on a daily basis, from dawn until dusk, giving the rhino time to investigate scent trails and contribute to the dung piles, and to become familiar and accepted by the wild living residents of Nairobi National Park. Being in Nairobi National Park, which is a very successful rhino sanctuary for both black and white rhinos, makes this daily routine possible, and is the ideal location for raising orphan rhinos, and critically successfully reintegrating them back to the wild.

Once a rhino calf is between 3 and 4 years old, their stockade doors can be left open at night, so that the calf can venture out and make physical contact with the local wild rhinos if and when it so wishes, but it is extremely important that it can return to something familiar ("Home Base") whenever they feel the need to do so. By this time, the calf will no longer be overly dependent on its Keepers, but he or she will always respond to them.

This slow and steady rehabilitation and reintegration process, underpinned by routine and familiarity, is required when raising a milk dependent orphan rhino to adulthood, and it can take a great deal of time before they fully fly the nest, around eight years.

Rhino Rehabilitation

The rhinos in our care do not mix with the elephant orphans during the day, because their individual needs are so different, but both species form our Orphans’ Project and sleep within the same compound at night.

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The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust   P.O. Box 15555 Nairobi Kenya

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