During the afternoon of the 12th June, a passing motorist spotted a tiny zebra foal standing forlornly all alone in the middle of the Kitengela plains abutting Nairobi National Park, with no other zebras anywhere to be seen. The foal was newborn, and had obviously lost its mother, probably to the Bushmeat trade. We sent a rescue team down in the Trust Pickup faced with what, at first, appeared an improbable task – running down an orphaned zebra foal on an open plain! However, nothing deterred, somehow they managed to accomplish this and the tiny zebra foal arrived in the Nursery in the late evening. Scratches on his face led us to believe that he owed his life to managing to escape through a barbed wire barrier.
He was placed overnight in one of the Elephant Stables along with a Keeper clad in a zebra striped cloak since baby zebras bond to the stripes of their mother, which like a human fingerprint are unique on every individual zebra and the way a baby knows the identity of its own mother in the herd. Overnight, the baby downed his Lactogen formula milk from a bottle (Zebras and Rhnos, who are also of the horse family, must be fed on a full-cream based humanized baby formula such as Nestles Lactogen four hourly).
Having spent a day in the stable getting used to his new human “mother figure” the little zebra was allowed out and about with his Keeper on day two, and although obnviously nervously curious, made no attempt to escape, but instead clung to the striped cloak worn by the Keeper. Within a day or two he and the zebra Keeper of the day were inseparable, and were able to wander further afield, keeping a wary out for any hungry lions!
We were definitely dismayed to find that the new arrival, although enchantingly cute, was a Stallion, for the Trust has had no previous success trying to rehabilitate hand-reared zebra Stallions. Like the elephants, Zebras are bonded into family groups, but unlike the elephants, the leader of each family is a male, and not a female. Having been reared by humans, all our previous Stallion orphans have viewed humans as competitors for their mares when grown, and have proved extremely unpredictable and even vicious, coming at any human in sight with flailing hooves, ears back and teeth bared. Having seen this behaviour with previous male zebra orphans, we were faced with a dilemma as to what to do about little “Rongai”, (as he had been named, after the nearby Kitengela town of Ongata Rongai.) Believing that all wild animals have a right to life, we put our heads together and came up with Plan B.
Down at the Voi Stockades, having been hand-reared by our Keepers in Voi, was an orphaned zebra mare called “Serena”, whose mother fell prey to lions near the Serena Safari Lodge in Amboseli National Park. Serena is now approaching adulthood, so it was decided to attach little Rongai to her, so that they would have the company of one another, hoping that she would “adopt” him and possibly taken him with her into the wild herds when a handsome Stallion turned up to claim her as a wife. An ideal means of getting Rongai to Tsavo presented itself when the report came that another elephant orphan had been brought into the Voi Stockades, having been found alone on the Irima plains behind the Voi Safari Lodge. This calf, who was almost 2 years of age, had sought the protection of a passing bull, and would definitely have ended up making a meal for a nearby pride of lions during the night who were watching her every movement with great interest. Since the bull was not anxious to have her attached to him, she was therefore captured and taken overnight into the Voi Stockades, pending being transferred by air the next day to the Nursery.
That morning, while preparations were being made for an Elephant Rescue to bring two year old Wasessa to the Nairobi Nursery, the crate in which orphan Madiba had traveled from South Africa to Nairobi was un-earthed and padded inside with foam mattresses to prevent any injury to baby Rongai, who was then coaxed into it. Very fortunately, the crate with him inside only just managed to fit through the door of the Caravan Rescue plane, but once everything was loaded, including Rongai, the plane left at 11.30 a.m. for Voi to bring Wasessa back to the Nairobi Nursery.
At the other end, little Rongai strolled out of his crate, spared the grueling road journey over appalling diversions on the main Mombasa – Nairobi Road, greeted by his new Voi Keeper wearing the required striped jacket. He investigated his new stable, and having had a feed, was introduced to Serena. By all accounts the introductions went swimmingly – Serena loved him at first sight, and he, her and henceforth in between his four hourly milk feeds, they are inseparable and spend the days walking out and about with their Attendant.
The plan at the moment is to geld Rongai when he is about 8 – l0 months old, as one does a horse not destined to breed, and together with Serena he can have a happy and peaceful life without having to worry about sex, and risk ending up having to be destroyed because he has become a problem. It is good for Serena to have the company of another zebra, and good for little Rongai to have a zebra foster-mother!