Published on the 22nd of October, 2010
It was a step-back in time, to be driving again on Solio Ranch near Mweiga, gradually making our way to a special enclosure that had kept some of my first rhino orphans safe for the past 34 years – rhino orphans from our Tsavo days when my late husband, David, was Warden of Tsavo East National Park. I well remember the year l976 when David was moved from the custodianship of Tsavo East to supposedly take up a new Post especially created for him at the Ministry of Tourism & Wildlife Headquarters in Nairobi – Head of the Planning Unit for all National Parks and Reserves. The Government had recently taken control of the National Parks from its previous independent Board of Trustees, drawn from all aspects of the community, whose brief was to do whatever was necessary to preserve and protect wildlife in the National Parks as the heritage of future generations. The newly Independent Kenya Government had other ideas relating to Ivory and Rhino horn, and for three decades rampant poaching of both elephants and rhinos went on unabated within all the Protected Areas, until just 6,000 elephants remained within the Tsavo ecosystem out of a previous population of 45,000 and rhinos within Tsavo were all but annihilated totally. The 8,000 we had left living when we left were no more.
David knew that our two orphans, Stroppie and Pushmi (Hoshim) would be numbered amongst the dead had they been left in Tsavo, for the signs were already there. So, just before he was moved in l976 8 year old Stroppie and 5 year old Pushmi known as Hoshim were transferred to the 50 acre paddock prepared especially for them abutting the main fenced Solio Wildlife Sanctuary, which would in the future become the most successful Rhino Breeding Centre in the world, providing rhinos to re-stock the areas in which they had been poached out. One of our earlier orphans named “Reudi” was already within the main Sanctuary and would grow up to become the main Breeding Bull, fathering many of the Black Rhinos living in Kenya today, who have been moved from Solio to re-populate rhino denuded National Parks throughout the country.
It was the 16th October, 2010 when I again went to visit Hoshim in Solio. Unfortunately, Stroppie had died of old age the previous year at the grand old age of 40. My mind was transported back in time as we made our way to that enclosure on that Saturday in October 2010.
“Pushmi”, as he was originally named, was born in l971, and abandoned newborn by his mother when a tourist Minibus rounded a corner in Tsavo and startled her before the baby had managed to even suckle. In fact, he would have made a morsel for a lioness had the Minibus not arrived in time to save him, for it so happened that a lioness was eyeing him hungrily from a nearby bush as the Driver of the Bus loaded him into the MiniVan. He was dumped on our doorstep still shrouded in foetal material, and he thrived from day one on a formula of humanized Lactogen full cream baby milk powder. Every week David and I would hoist him up in a sling and weigh him and since he was the first rhino we had hand-reared from the day he was born, we were delighted to find that he was gaining weight steadily and rapidly at about 1 lb. per day!
When he was a boisterous toddler of 8 months, and beginning to disturb the tranquility of what were known as “The Garden Orphans” i.e. a host of assorted orphaned antelopes, he spent time in the chicken run-cum-orchard at the back of our Tsavo home so that the Garden Orphans could get some respite. There he enjoyed being tickled by the chickens, who clambered all over him to pick off ticks as he slept. Slowly his eyes would close and his tail would rise as he was reduced to a state of blissful torpor, and the more the chickens jumped about on top of him and pecked at him, the better he seemed to like it. So, one day when Eleanor, the Matriarch of our Tsavo Orphaned Elephants of the day, marched up to him and began to investigate him with her trunk, he collapsed like a pack of cards, lifting up his leg to be tickled, while the little orphaned buffalo friend who was with him, was not nearly so trusting and retreated rapidly! Eleanor was quite used to rhinos, for within her orphaned “herd” she already had “Stroppie”, Pushmi’s Senior by 3 years, with whom she enjoyed playing.
With time, the name “Pushmi” became corrupted to “Hoshim”and it is as Hoshim he is known in Solio. For a rhino anything that tickles is divine, and Hoshim found that Eleanor’s tickle was far better than that of the chickens. He was not in the least bit awed either by her size nor by the fact that he was surrounded by a curious throng of assorted other animal spectators. He simply lay there with his eyes closed, exposing his tummy and sighing contentedly. Eleanor obviously approved. She decided to have a game with him similar to the one she periodically played with Stroppie. Very gently she placed an enormous foot on top of Hoshim’s head, exerting a little pressure, which resulted in an immediate reaction! He leapt to his feet with the whites of his eyes showing angrily, spun round with a terrific snort, tossing his head up and down as he confronted her. Eleanor was surprised as she towered over him, her ears outspread like two gigantic sails. At first she was somewhat puzzled, but then, hesitantly, out came her trunk again. Feeling the tickling starting once more, Hoshim rolled over on his back to make the most of it all over again and it was thus that he became accepted into Eleanor’s orphaned herd!
We were astonished at his command of the situation. Even the orphaned zebra named Punda seemed slightly awed, for when he approached to make advances, little Hoshim rebuffed him so violently that he retreated and turned his attentions instead to Stroppie. As for Stroppie, she simply plodded on up the hill without even noticing that there had been another addition to the herd, which surprised us. However, Stroppie had become used to all sorts within the orphaned herd overseen by Eleanor – buffaloes, ostriches, Punda the Zebra and several other elephant orphans amongst whom was Punda’s special friend, a young elephant bull named Raru.
Stroppie and Pushmi were moved to Solio Ranch towards the end of l976, just before David left Tsavo and died in Nairobi 6 months later. Stroppie and Hoshim by then were already safely ensconced in their 50 acre paddock within the Solio Wildlife Sanctuary, courtesy of the owner, Mr. Court Parfet and there they lived until Stroppie died of old age in 2009, by then an old rhino lady of 40. When I visited them last Hoshim had a beautiful long horn that tapered symmetrically, and Stroppie also had a sizeable front horn which had to be trimmed periodically because it threatened to grow back into her forehead.
Ed Parfet, the son of the original owner, had warned me the previous day that KWS had removed Hoshim’s beautiful horn. This came as no surprise to me. Also that as an elderly rhino of 37, he was sometimes inclined to be a little grumpy, and in fact had learnt how to break through his enclosure in order to investigate the area beyond, retreating back to his patch whenever needed. He had apparently been startled by one of his Security Guards earlier in the year and had charged him, causing the man to fall and break an arm. I decided to remain within the confines of the car when we met, and Angela , who was more agile, went to feed him his hand-out of sugarcane!
When we arrived, Hoshim was sleeping behind a bush but responded to his name and the promise of a hand-out of sugarcane, lumbering to his feet and coming to the fence. Angela was standing by to feed him the sugar cane. She remembered him fondly, having ridden him in Tsavo when both he and she were very young, and also playing “horse jumping games” with him and his little buffalo friend in Tsavo, inducing the buffalo to jump the jumps placed on the lawn, following her lead, while Hoshim merely ran straight through them and, much to her chagrin, demolished them during each session!
It was wonderful to see Hoshim again after all the years, but even more wonderful to know that he had been protected and nurtured lovingly at Solio during all that time, enjoying a quiet quality of life with his friend Stroppie, until the day she died. On three occasions the Management had tried to introduce him into the main Sanctuary, but he had been beaten up by other bulls, for the introduction of rhinos into a resident community is complicated and not easy. And so, Hoshim was allowed to lead a peaceful and quiet life, content to have the scent of others nearby, so that he is never alone. I am so deeply grateful to Ed Parfet and Solio Ranch for affording him and Stroppie that privilege, and I know that David would be as well. Meanwhile, back in the Nairobi Nursery, we can return the favour by hand-rearing and looking after little 6 month “Solio”, whose mother died from her injuries just weeks before.