6.30pm on the 18th of March we received the phone call that left us all shattered. Shida was dead.
Amos his keeper reported they had tracked him that day together with the Kenyan Wildlife Service Rangers, having grown concerned when he had not reported to his stockade that morning, something he would routinely do. (Shida had a small radio transmitter placed in his horn when he was moved to facilitate easy tracking and monitoring of him, as is custom with any black rhino translocation in Kenya today)
Amos one of the trusty Keepers who has been with Shida and watched him grow from a 3 month old infant to a magnificent adult in his eighth year, felt both a feeling of guilt and betrayal when they were confronted by Shida’s lifeless form. It was evident he had died from his injuries after a dramatic fight with a wild rhino opponent which had left him fatally wounded. The Kenya Wildlife Service team was equally as upset, for Shida in the short time he had been within the fenced Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park, had many new human admirers. Drivers and tourists alike had all come to know him, for he guaranteed a wonderful close up view of his secretive species – a species that is becoming even reclusive in a bid for existence, survival threatened by the value of their keratin horns in the Far East, worth five times the price of gold per ounce. Shida, having been hand-reared from early infancy by humans, trusted humans and had become a real attraction in the recent weeks.
Black rhinos are an extremely ancient species, unchanged throughout millennia, who have almost stepped out of the age of Dinosaurs, and in terms of Nature, a highly successful animal form, vital to the health and wellbeing of the pastures they tread in that they consume many plants that are poisonous to others and also eat the dung of other browsers such as giraffe, extracting nutrients from a higher level of vegetation that they themselves cannot reach. These ancient animals were never designed to be translocated for they are fiercely territorial and solitary, defending their territories fiercely and monitoring all rhino occupants within their specific community through the dungpiles and urinals through chemistry and scent. When we first approached KWS to move Shida because he almost killed a two year old orphaned elephant currently growing up in the Trust’s Elephant and Rhino Nursery in Nairobi National Park, in a frenzied moment as he slipped into “auto-mode” (as rhinos are prone to doing) we urged that he be moved to the Intensive Security free release zone outside of the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in a valley that currently holds some of the rhinos from within the fenced Sanctuary. Ideally a rhino that is being translocated to a new area should be held within a Stockade so that this becomes established as “Home Base”, and his or her dung scattered throughout existing rhino middens or dungpiles so that a newcomer is introduced to others in the area through scent. However, at the very last minute the decision was taken by the KWS authorities handling the translocation to release Shida actually within the fenced Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, in the shadow of Kitchwa Tembo Mountain, which is home to established other rhinos all holding established territories. Here he would be safer from poachers in the future, another reason being that he might be tempted to seek the company of humans and gravitate to the Tourist lodges within the Free Rhino Release Zone. Following this new development we acted swiftly to secure permission from The Kenyan Wildlife Service authorities to build a stockade close to the spot where Shida was released. It was an ideal place, close to Goss’s Camp where the Rangers and his Keepers were based and where there was fresh water, the presence of humans and ideal browse. The thinking was that this Stockade would provide a refuge for him, and somewhere more familiar to his daily routine within Nairobi National Park which had become so much a part of his daily life. There his Keepers could be based, and he could be provided with copra cake, Lucerne and dairy cubes daily until he had become familiar with is new home and established his own territory.
Instantly Shida embarked on a long recce, searching for something familiar, but eventually took to returning to his new Stockade daily to spend time with his Keepers, enjoy his supplements and bask in an audience of visiting tourists viewing him from the safety of the nearby rocky Kopie. It all reminded him of his old home. During the heat of the day he spent time under the shade of large acacia trees, taking a mudbath when he needed to cool down, tending to be more active at night, which is a trait of many current day Black Rhinos who are persecuted relentlessly for their valuable horns. He began to wander further and further afield browsing, reporting to his stockade regularly. We knew that the stockade would provide the security he needed from the wild rhino bulls; a place where he could retreat safe in the knowledge that wild rhino opponents would not follow him given its close proximity to the staff quarters of Goss’s Camp.
The saddest part of all this is Shida’s end – an end that should never have been and certainly not one that we envisaged. However, once Shida left our compound the matter was out of our hands because all wildlife in Kenya is currently the responsibility of Government. We dare not risk a fatal accident at the Nairobi Nursery involving Shida, the elephant orphans and the Keepers and visitors, so the day he tossed little Tano (who miraculously emerged unscathed), Shida had sealed his fate one way or the other because he would no longer enjoy our care and protection. On that fateful day when Shida targeted Tano, he set off a chain of events that sealed his untimely end. We had nurtured him for eight years here within the Nairobi Park where he lived a happy and free life in harmony with the wild community amongst whom he had established through 3 years of contributing his visiting card to the wild rhino dung piles and urinals, returning to his stockade daily to keep an eye on blind Maxwell, of whom he had become very fond. He was a rhino of two worlds, and it was very sad for each and every one of us here at the Nursery when that decision was made and we had to say goodbye to him. His departure has left a void ever since as he was such a prominent and imposing part of each and every day.
There is no easy way to break this kind of news, and we are deeply saddened to have to be the bearers of it. We would like to thank all who have supported Shida throughout the years, and can only take comfort in the knowledge that he lived a very happy and fulfilling life for eight years that would have been denied him had he not been raised as an orphan. We only wish his story could have ended differently. When one takes on a rhino, one takes on a complicated and ancient species, whom Nature never intended should be moved, for rhinos do best when they grow up and live within a community where every resident rhino is known by all the others through chemistry and scent.