Whenever one takes on an orphaned rhino, one can expect a roller-coaster of highs and lows, for the life of such ancient, territorial creatures is complex and filled with possible pitfalls. Our orphaned rhino “Shida”, who up until now has led a healthy and charmed existence, integrating peacefully into the resident wild community of Nairobi National Park, now proves to be no exception. Just after the New Year he appeared with part of his bowel protruding from the rectum – in Veterinary terms “a prolapsed mucosa of the rectum”, and this put an enormous dampener on everyone’s spirits this New Year, since it was so unexpected. Having been the epitome of health, and, if anything, over-weight just a few days previously, suddenly he looked very different and almost skeletal.On Shida's belly was a long cut, suggesting that he had been involved in a fight with an opponent rhino, and possibly suffered a severe blow that could possibly have been the cause of this problem,and the very rapid subsequent loss of weight.
Shida underwent the first operation under anaesthesia on the 3rd January, when an attempt was made to return what was protruding, and a fishing gut suture put in place to try and prevent a re-prolapse. Unhappily, this didn’t work, for the thread used was not sufficiently strong to withstand rhino power. Two days later, on the 5th January, the operation was repeated, but this time using an 80 lb. fishing Gut. Following this, there was anxiety since he seemed to suffer difficulty in emptying his bowel, kicking his back legs, as rhinos do when they defecate, but producing nothing! Eventually, after 24 hours, he managed during the night, which was good news, but the not so good news was that it triggered another partial re-prolapse, although the suture had held. Two anaesthetics, a massive deworming dose, having to be incarcerated in his Night Stockade during the hours of daylight and fed only on soft fruit, left him in a sorry state, both psychologically and physically. We decided to let him out, so that he could visit his favourite haunts, his Keepers keeping trailing him to keep in touch, and feeding him his noon day milk ration reinforced with cooked oatmeal porridge. So far he is happy to return to his Stockade for the night. An attempt to feed him vitamin pills hidden in a pineapple resulted in him rejecting all fruit, but thankfully he is happy to down Norodine antibiotic paste, which has a sweetish flavour, in his milk, Daphne having sampled a little before-hand! We have been in touch with the South African Vets, who are happy to lend their assistance should an amputation be needed, and as soon as Shida is a little stronger, his condition will be re-assessed before going this route. The word “Shida” in Swahili means “difficulty” and the baby rhino who came to us as an orphaned 3 month old, following the death of his aged and decrepit old mother at the Ivory Burn Site in Nairobi National Park, was descriptively so named for this very reason. It seems ironic that this name should again prove so apt.
According to the Vets, this condition is not uncommon in the equine species, such as horses and donkeys and since rhinos are, essentially, “horses” it is obviously a condition that is not unique to just Shida. Normally, it occurs following a heavy infestation of stomach parasites or a bout of severe diarrhoea and given the extraordinarily heavy rains we have experienced this year, perhaps an overload of rhino “bots” may have been another factor. Rhinos are known to host the large beetle-sized “bots” of the rare Gyrostigma fly which in Africa is specific to the species, and which seem to reside within every rhino’s stomach in a seemingly symbiotic relationship for a very long time, having hatched from an egg the size of a pinhead laid by the crepuscular fly in the striations of the skin during very wet periods. From these tiny eggs, a minute inch-worm hatches and immediately burrows through the skin and into the body, eventually somehow making its way into the stomach cavity. From observation of the many rhinos we have hand-reared to adulthood, the rhino bots are passed in the dung during exceptionally wet years, and hatch into a beautiful electric blue fly with scarlet head stripes and legs, mimicking a wasp, but which has no mouth parts. This fly’s only mission is to find a living rhino within about 5 days to lay its eggs and perpetuate the cycle and since rhinos are now a severely endangered species, it follows that the Gyrostigma fly is as well! Our supporters, and Shida’s many foster-parents, will be kept updated on his progress. One has to understand that Shida, as an orphan in human care, is a very lucky young rhino, for had he been wild, no help would be at hand for him. As it is, we will do everything in our power to restore him to his former magnificent self.