Published on the 26th of September, 2010
The very word Solio is indicative of saving the Black Rhino as a species here in Kenya, for when Black Rhinos had all but disappeared from their natural native ranges, including Tsavo National Park (once the home of 8,000), it was on 25,000 acre Solio Ranch under tight security that the species managed to proliferate from a mere handful introduced 40 years ago to some 90 individuals. And it is from the Solio population that rhinos have been reintroduced to other Protected Areas since the 80s. It was also to Solio that David Sheldrick moved Tsavo Easts orphaned rhino Reudi in the 60s, who was continually under attack from other rhinos, and who became the breeding bull of the ranch. Consequently Reudi has probably fathered most of the living rhinos in Kenya today. Subsequent to that, in 1976 when David was transferred from Tsavo East to head the Planning Unit in Nairobi, two remaining Tsavo rhino orphans, Stroppie and Pushmi were also transferred to Solio where he knew they would be protected and cared for. There they lived in a 50 acre paddock until Stroppie recently died of old age in her late thirties but Pushmi survives still, undoubtedly the oldest rhino in Kenya, and a stunning specimen with a magnificent horn.
Recently, however, Solio has also come under attack and several of its rhinos have been poached. One such casualty could well be the mother of our most recent orphan who was rescued on the 23rd September, the mother apparently rendered immobile and unable to move for the past two days, suspected to have been fatally wounded. The reason for her injury has not been confirmed however.
The Rescue alert came to us during the afternoon of the 23rd September 2010 when a Caravan aircraft was with 4 Keepers aboard plus all the paraphernalia required to overpower and airlift back to the Nursery what we were told was a 6 month old calf. However, when the Rescue Party arrived, they found that the young rhino was a lot older than 6 months probably more like a year, a little bigger in size than orphan Maalim, and extremely feisty far too aggressive to risk being in a plane. Having already been immobilized to load into a crate, the KWS Vet in attendance did not want to risk another sedation hence the Rescue Plane returned empty, leaving the two Keepers with the young rhino.
The Keepers had not anticipated spending a freezing night at high altitude, without blankets or food. Angela phoned a friend, Ava Paton, who happens to be running a small Lodge on the Ranch. Ava kindly came to the rescue, bringing blankets, food and water to the stranded Keepers, who spent an uncomfortable night beside the crated rhino on the Solio Airfield.
Meanwhile, Lewa very kindly provided the truck needed, and the rhino arrived on our doorstep at 5 a.m. in morning of the 24th, waking up all the elephants in the Nursery who began bellowing for their milk earlier than usual.
The problem was now how to unload what was an extremely weighty cargo which actually required a Fork Lift or a Block and Tackle. Neither were available locally, so it required the ingenuity and expertise of Robert (Angelaa husband) to undertake this task and this he did, with the help of tow ropes attached to the crate and pulled in unison by two Landrovers, with all the Keepers beside the crate to ensure that it remained upright as it was gradually eased down a ramp onto log rollers. This was accomplished successfully, and the next essential was to inoculate the inmate of the crate with antibiotic Nuroclav to forestall pneumonia and other ailments brought on by stress due to a resultant depressed immune system. (We have learnt from experience that this is a must, otherwise the calf will die within 4 days, succumbing to ailments to which it would normally be immune). Crouched on top of the Crate, and using a syringe attached to a long pole, Robert managed to inject both the antibiotic, and vitamins.
The little rhino was slightly larger than Maalim, and extremely strong still, but quite obviously badly in need of both water and sustenance. Thereafter the Crate was maneuvered to the dividing entrance to Kandechas night Stockade, abutting the one set aside for the new rhino, so that the newcomer could be let out into Kandechas quarters, and the crate then hauled back through the entrance to its designated Stockade.
The animal came out hesitatingly, and thereafter repeatedly smashed against the walls and door of the Stockade, attempting to deal with all in sight. Only the soft exhalation of breath - the sound with which a mother calls its baby, relaxed the calf a little, indicated by the attitude of the ears, but the little rhino was nevertheless still far too aggressive to risk being handled. Once the Crate was out of the way, the calf was tempted into its designated Stockade and the dividing door between the two stockades closed by remote control, everyone still keeping well out of the way!
The new orphan is a female, and named Solio. She is extremely important to the survival of the species since the demand for rhino horn in the Far East is rapidly driving this ancient species to extinction. Her Stockade abuts that of blind Maxwell, who was very interested in the entire procedure, and whose rhino scent will hopefully help provide a calming influence for the calf because she will know she is not alone.
Two Keepers have been with the little rhino, given the unenviable task of taming her down because upon that depends her ultimate survival. A bottle brush strapped onto a long stick seems to have done the trick and the tickling brush has caressed Solio into submission and she is now totally trusting of the Keepers and insatiable in her desires to be pampered with mudwallow rubbing, dust baths and tickling. All of those can all take place at close quarters now, and the tickling brush has been discarded.