The rescue of Maarifa

Published on the 1st of January, 2019

In the Meru National Park Rhino Sanctuary, a routine early morning security patrol by KWS on 1st November happened upon a female white rhino struggling to extract her tiny new born calf from a muddy pool. The calf appeared completely stuck in the mud, and the mother was doing all that she could to extract her baby. Despite her well-meaning efforts, the mother was in fact making matters worse.

After observing from a distance for some time, hoping that the mother would eventually be successful, the team finally decided that it was necessary to intervene before the baby died. As they moved in closer the mother trotted away towards another female white rhino in the company of a big male. The Rangers laid down their weapons, removed their boots, rolled up their trousers and clambered into the swamp area to extract the baby and carry it to safety.

She was a tiny little thing who the rangers described as ‘jovial’ from the outset. The moment she was free, despite still being caked in mud, she huffed and puffed and began spinning in circles playfully following the men and trotting behind them. This now presented a problem for her rescuers, as they tried to hide so that the mother would come back to her calf.

Efforts to reunite mum and calf continued for the rest of the day; the rangers retreated a good safe distance and at times disappeared altogether hoping that the mother would return and retrieve her confused baby, who was by now crying out. The big male did come ambling towards the baby at one point, but then walked right past her, ignoring her altogether which was most odd. As the day progressed the rhinos moved further away from the calf and the rangers became increasingly desperate to see her reunited with her mother, mindful that they were working against the clock.

Eventually they called in the KWS helicopter to come to Meru to try and guide the mother closer to her baby, because by now she was moving in the opposite direction, still in the company of the other female and male, and was now out of sight. Using the helicopter bore no positive results, and sadly the terrain was such that efforts by vehicle were extremely limited. Eventually, all attempts had to cease as night fell and the little baby was carried to the vehicle and taken to Bravo18 ranger base still within the Sanctuary. She was placed in a room with a mattress and was kept company throughout the night. The DSWT/KWS Meru Mobile Veterinary Unit Vet, Dr. Rono, made sure to give her rehydration salts in water at 7.00pm, once again during the night, and then again in the morning.

Next morning the team awoke early, with their little precious bundle obediently following, to begin the exercise all over again. The mother is a well-known wild female called Makosi, so she is easily recognizable to the men charged with the protection of the rhinos within the Sanctuary. While the Rhino Sanctuary was first built in the early 2000’s it was just last year that the Meru Rhino Sanctuary was expanded, increasing the size from 48 square kilometers to 83.5 square km, extending the electric fence line by a further 25.6km along with developing another two security bases for KWS personnel.

The expansion and upgrade of the Meru Rhino Sanctuary and its ongoing fence maintenance was a project funded and undertaken by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, with the rhino population within the sanctuary standing at 60 white rhinos and 25 black rhinos. Importantly 20 strategically located wildlife corridors allow for free movement of elephants and all other wildlife, with the exception of rhinos, who cannot pass through the short posts erected between the specially designed fence corridors.

On the morning of the 2nd November, the KWS helicopter located mum Makosi again and the team went out to attempt to reunite her with her baby once more. Again despite everyone’s best efforts, Mum failed to respond to her baby’s calls or scent. Having had no luck by 3.00pm, and given the extreme temperature at the time and the fact that the calf was by now becoming visibly weaker, a decision was made by KWS to rescue the baby before it was too late. For those on the ground it was clear that mum, for whatever perplexing reason, was no longer interested in her baby, and with the hour late already the team did not want the calf to have another twelve hour night without nourishment.

One of the capture unit rangers, Wambugu, who works with the Meru Mobile Unit, was given the task of holding the little baby in the helicopter with the Vet Dr. Bernard Rono alongside. Remarkably, she remained calm throughout the one hour flight and was delivered directly to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Nursery, situated within the Nairobi National Park.

Raising the baby here given that Nairobi Park is also a very successful rhino Sanctuary, with a healthy population of both white rhinos and black rhinos living on the plains below the Trust Nursery, seemed like a good solution for a disappointing situation. Once the helicopter landed, the tiny baby was carried from the aircraft and placed onto a canvas stretcher, before being carried by Nursery Keepers to her freshly prepared stable.

Orphan elephant Enkesha was moved into one of the larger stockades to make room for our new little arrival, and not a moment too soon, as Enkesha she has grown significantly in the last few months and was fast outgrowing her stable.

We called the little baby Maarifa, a Swahili name that is in keeping with her mum’s name Makosi. Maarifa actually means ‘knowledge’ in Swahili, but there is a saying ‘fanya Maarifa’ which means to ‘get creative’ or ‘make a plan’, which under the circumstances surrounding Maarifa’s fate we thought wholly appropriate.

Maarifa drank her first bottle well, desperate for milk by now, and appeared to be all legs and feet, but she certainly had plenty of attitude and personality despite having gone through two arduous days with no milk. She remained restless for a while, but very soon settled into her creature comforts, like the soft mattress, fresh cut hay that she enjoyed sleeping on, and a little blanket that was tied around her tummy for warmth at night and in the early mornings.

Maarifa owns the establishment, and is extremely playful so her days are spent charging around for hours, barreling past the Keepers as well as the resident wild warthogs and their babies. Sometimes she can be slow in applying the brakes, which one has to be mindful of!

She very much has a mind of her own and has already established her own haunt which she is reluctant to move too far away from. Despite being coaxed to move and walk elsewhere she will very often run back to where she wants to be; while Maarifa has the company of Keepers at all times, she is often dictating much of the action! She loves her Keepers, and they have their work cut out for them, and as they have to be very alert to lions, because of her jovial ways that see her taking off at a run in all directions!

It is difficult to know how young she was on arrival, but on first appearance it was as if she was born the night before the morning she fell victim to that muddy pool. Either way she is very definitely the tiniest white rhino baby we have ever seen. She has orphan elephant Maktao for company at night, in the next door stable, aside from her ever present Keepers, and seems totally at home with the towering form of baby elephants, which presently dwarf her in size. That will be reversed in time as white rhinos grow into extremely large animals.

Maarifa has completely captivated the compound, and all the Keepers, the KWS rangers and the DSWT staff simply cannot get enough of her antics. Even the elephants appear fascinated by this compact bundle of attitude!

We thank all those involved in saving Maarifa, as we are very aware of how hard everyone tried to ensure the desired result came about. We are mindful that it was a very fortuitous patrol that happened upon Makosi and her baby because the Sanctuary is a very large place and while it is terribly unfortunate that they could not be reunited, we take comfort in the fact that both mum and baby still remain alive today.


It is with a heavy heart that we share news of the devastating loss of Maarifa, who passed away on the morning of Monday 25th March. It is difficult for us to comprehend the events, which happened so quickly and so unexpectedly, because over the past five months Maarifa has thrived in our care, doted on by her ever attentive Keepers and very much the boss of the Nursery compound enchanting all who met her. Read more...