It all began so innocently - Rhino Orphan Shida slowly making his way from his stockade to the bush early on the morning of 10th February 2011, just as the Elephant orphans too were making their way out into the bush to browse during the day. Mischievous Tano, who thoroughly enjoys chasing off the warthogs and all intruders who will oblige by running away, instead of following the Keepers who were busy trying to get the elephants out of Shida’s path, ran towards him wanting to play. Shida was gentle in the beginning, but then focused on her, and when she fell down, everything instantly changed, he went into auto killing mode, as these ancient pachyderms do. He tossed her repeatedly, lifting her high into the air, then followed up by trying to skewer her with his horn which, miraculously, passed under her body and not through it, rolling her round on the ground. At this point, as one Elephant Keeper rushed baby Naipoki back to the Stockades out of harm’s way, all the other Elephant Keepers, and their charges, became involved, throwing rocks at Shida and hitting him with whatever they could lay their hands on in order to try and save Tano. There was mayhem – elephants screaming and bellowing, people yelling but Shida was impervious until a stone happened to hit him in the face, just as Tano became wedged up against a tree, and he could easily have killed her. The hit in the face brought him out of “auto mode” and back to his senses.
We will never know how Tano managed to emerge unscathed! We feared internal damage because an 8 year old Rhino is no light weight! Shida has a massive horn on the end of his nose which he has sharpened to a sharp point. Once he had left, and the elephants had been taken away, everyone rushed to surround Tano, fearing the worst, if not visible injuiries, likely internal damage. However, although she appeared somewhat shaken, she clearly enjoyed all the extra attention, and was soon happily feeding and playing with her peers. She was given loads of Arnica and Rescue Remedy throughout the day, and was carefully monitored thereafter, but displayed no untoward signs. It was, indeed, a miracle, but also a warning since it could so easily have ended up a terrible tragedy involving a very popular baby elephant and worse still, a human Keeper. Now that Shida was beginning “to feel his wild oats”, he could obviously no longer be trusted around the Trust Compound, or anywhere near the daily mudbath visitors, so we had no option but to seek the assistance of the Kenya Wildlife Service Rhino Translocation Unit and ask that he be moved elsewhere. All wildlife in the country still belongs to the Government, so the decision about a final destination for our orphaned rhino was theirs, and they made it clear that the best option was a recent extension to the electrically fenced Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park near “Goss Camp” where some Rangers are based None of the private ranches were eager to have a Rhino bull.
Shida came to us as a 2 month old orphaned baby on the 30th October 2003, his 35 year old aged Nairobi Park rhino mother having succumbed to the ravages of time near the Ivory burn site, her teeth worn so flat that she could no longer chew. Her baby was found by KWS Rangers in the morning standing beside his inert mother. He had obviously had a traumatic night and put up a brave struggle warding off the hyaenas who turned up to feed on his mother. Hyaena tracks had worn a veritable road around her body.
We named our new orphan “Shida”, the Swahili word for “a problem”, the problem being born to a mother nearing the end of her natural life. However, on the 9th February 2011, when he downed Elephant Orphan Tano, he lived up to that name! We had a problem having counted Shida amongst our rhino success stories - integrated into the resident Nairobi National Park rhino community (which involves a mission) and up until now a very mellow fellow obedient to the commands of the Keepers. Once independent of his Keepers, he had dutifully settled into a comfortable routine that suited both him and Blind Maxwell. He returned on a daily basis, walked back into his old Nursery Stockade abutting that of blind Maxwell, and enjoyed sparring with Max through the separating poles. Whenever back in his Stockade, he was locked in, happy to be an exhibit and “viewed” by the visiting public and we were also happy to view him on a daily basis and know that he was still on four legs, rhino poaching having escalated sharply ever since the arrival of Chinese construction workers in the country. Once the mudbath public left, he was let out and went about his business being a wild free ranging rhino of Nairobi National Park. However, it was not unusual for him to stroll through the public CarPark on his way back, or turn up at the Elephants’ Mudbath, so that both guests and the elephants would have to give him right of way. The incident involving Tano told us that it was time for him to live a truly wild rhino life elsewhere where he would not become “a problem”.
KWS could not have been more sympathetic and helpful. For the next couple of days following the Tano incident, we kept Shida enclosed in his stockade during the hours of daylight, allowing him out at night only, but when he turned up as usual on the 14th February, he was kept in overnight in order to be on hand to be moved early the next morning (15th).
The KWS Translocation team arrived on schedule with all the necessary paraphanalia - a huge Truck attached to which was a Crane, steel rollers and a metal “blanket”on which Shida would lie unconscious having been sedated. The tip of his horn was then removed, and a hole drilled down the centre in order to insert a radio transmitter so that his movements could be tracked at the other end.
Whilst he was down we seized one last chance to anoint a filarial lesion under his chin with Green Clay, put some Arnica and Rescue remedy under his tongue and lay a bed of straw in his traveling crate to make his journey more comfortable. He was then manually dragged recumbent out of his Stockade on the metal “blanket” platform, and once in position before his traveling crate, given an injection to revive him, and whilst still drowsy, pushed into his “Box”. This was then lifted by the crane onto the back of the waiting truck, and within 45 minutes, he was on his way, accompanied by Tal Manor, who works for the Trust, and who had assigned the task of filming his move, as well as sackfuls of his dung, and his favourite Keeper, Mishak Nzimbi. It was all accomplished very professionally and proficiently by the KWS Veterinarians and Translocation team, but for us it was an emotional farewell to a much loved Rhino orphan we had nurtured tenderly for over seven years and watched grow into the magnificent animal he was today. There were few dry eyes as he was driven away..
Shida arrived at the other end amidst a heavy unseasonal downpour of rain which turned the earth road into such a slippery quagmire that the huge truck became bogged and slid into a side ditch, the “Box” containing a rhino lying at a jaunty angle looking as though it was about to topple off. Fortunately, the long arm of the crane managed to heave the vehicle back into the middle of the road, and Shida remained calm, but it was dusk by the time the Team and their precious cargo drew into Goss Camp. Shida was then let out.
He had slept most of the way, and was still quite drowsy at the other end. Keeper Mishak stood beside him, gave him more Rescue Remedy and guided him to the nearby water trough. His dung was scattered around the point of release, so that there was at least something he would recognize, whilst a flabbergasted human audience could hardly believe that a grown rhino could be so docile and obedient! All then pleaded to stand beside him and also have their photograph taken. Shida had already become something very special in their eyes!
As daylight dawned the next morning, Mishak was up early, hoping to find Shida near the water trough, but instead he had long gone on an extended walkabout, and was about 10 kms away from the point of release. The KWS team and Mishak went to join him, but he was clearly on a mission, walking and walking, looking for the familiarity of his Nairobi Park territory. This is likely to go on for some time, and the following days will be a very traumatic and tough time for poor Shida, as he tries to orient himself, and in the process may well encounter other rhino residents. However, he will be monitored on a daily basis, and has already earned for himself a special identity in the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. We pray that his story will have a Happy Ending but should he run into trouble, we will be there to pick up the pieces.
Tsavo offers rhinos perfect habitat. There are apparently another 28 rhinos in Shida’s Extension area. Once he settles, he will be in a beautiful place in a Protected Area that at one time was home to the largest population of Black Rhinos in the entire world – 8,000 of them. In fact, in the fifties and sixties rhinos were so abundant in Tsavo that a Black Rhino was chosen as the emblem of the then Royal National Parks of Kenya. Today, there are fewer than 500 left in Kenya, and only about 1500 in the entire world. They are heading towards total extinction due to the ridiculous myth amongst Far Eastern people surrounding the supposed medicinal and aphrodisiac properties of their horns. In fact, the horn is simply compressed hair, exactly the same substance as a fingernail, so if all those Believers simply chewed their nails, they would be getting exactly the same substance, and the world’s rhinos would be spared for posterity!
Shida is one of the lucky few still to be alive. He was afforded a second chance of life when he was rescued as an orphan. Now he has been given his third and last chance if he is able to settle in Tsavo and make that his permanent home. The Trust can take credit for his life, as can all the foster-parents who have helped us steer him into adulthood and the KWS Professionals who moved him so proficiently.
To view a video of Shida's move please click this link: www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/video_clips.html