When a rhino is at such a formative age as Apollo, every month brings about monumental changes. We rescued him in 2019, after his mother died of natural causes. Even as an infant, Apollo was a force of nature, galloping with all the conviction of a full-grown rhino. It took formidable strength and determination to bring him to safety.
We assigned two of our most experienced rhino Keepers, Justus and Kingoo, to spearhead Apollo’s care. Before we knew it, the fierce little calf had transformed into a sweetheart. By the second day, he allowed his Keepers to enter his stable and rub his tummy. By the third day, he was ready to take his first walk down to his inaugural mud bath. By year-end, he was cruising around Kaluku and the surrounding Tsavo Conservation Area with confidence.
This month, Apollo celebrated his third birthday. For a species who can live well into their forties, this puts him squarely in the toddler category. However, we must marvel at how much he has grown and matured since his rescue. Apollo came to us a tiny calf, with a stubby horn perched atop an equally stubby nose. Today, he looks like a scaled-down version of an adult rhino. He still has plenty of growing ahead of him, but he is already a very impressive fellow.
Yet, in many ways, Apollo remains very much a baby — as the arrival of Twiggy reminded us. Rhinos have a reputation for being a solitary species. This is true for Apollo, but he has always been gracious towards the other orphans in our Kaluku menagerie and feels right at home amidst an eclectic assortment of creatures. The arrival of an orphaned giraffe, however, was a step too far in his estimation. Whenever he caught a glimpse of our newcomer, Twiggy, he expressed his disapproval with a grumpy snort.
Rhinos are territorial by nature. We believe that Apollo’s issue with Twiggy stems from this very quality — though it is not his patch that he is territorial about, but his Keepers! He could be napping or browsing in the far corner of his stockade, but he stands at attention the moment someone approaches the young giraffe’s room. If it is one of his favourite Keepers, he begins to squeak plaintively, as if entreating them to remember that he is their special baby.
And of course, he is their special baby. Justus, Kingoo, and the other Keepers are completely devoted to Apollo. From sunup to sundown, they ensure he has all the hands-on husbandry, guidance, and mental stimulation he needs to thrive. Every day, they escort Apollo on long excursions through the bush. By now, he has fully mapped out the area. Some days, he fancies a sprint down the sandy beaches of the Athi River; others, he prefers to linger beneath the giant baobab tree. Much to his Keepers’ dismay, he has started pulling brief disappearing acts, which is a sure sign that our sturdy boy is growing in confidence and independence!
As Apollo grows older, we are looking towards the next step in his journey back to the wild. Reintegrating an orphaned rhino is a complicated, painstaking process — but it is something we have successfully executed many times before. In anticipation of this next step, we have created a wonderful base to help Apollo reclaim his place among the wild rhinos of Tsavo East. It sits in the heart of Tsavo’s rhino country, fully secured so he can safely adjust to his new territory. In the not-too-distant future, Apollo will move to his new home, accompanied by his beloved Keepers.
Rhinos are a species like no other. They are complex and primitive in equal measure, deeply sensitive yet extremely stoic. It has been a privilege to be part of Apollo’s formative years — and this is just the beginning. How wonderful it is to think that, decades from now, he will be one of the hulking rhinos who preside over the Tsavo wilderness.