Early Days

The origins of the Orphans' Project begin with the orphaned animals Daphne and David hand-raised from the 1950's.

For over 50 years, our Founder, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, alongside her husband, David Sheldrick, hand-raised orphaned rhinos back to a life in the wild. They pioneered the husbandry and techniques required to successfully reintegrate black and white rhinos back to a life in the wild, knowledge that has influenced other rescue organisations around the world.


As Warden of Tsavo East National Park, David Sheldrick’s work brought him into close proximity with wild species and orphaned animals, offering the opportunity for Daphne and David to study animal behaviours, and when required, assist orphans in need. ​​​​​​​


The first orphaned rhino ever to have been successfully hand-reared, certainly in Kenya, and probably Africa-wide. A bull, born in Tsavo East National Park in the early 1960's and found near the Assistant Warden's house in the early hours of the morning, as a newborn, his mother obviously having fled when dawn broke and the first workers began to arrive. He had a shaky start, since the milk formula and husbandry had not yet been perfected. He grew up with the early elephant orphans of Tsavo, Samson and Fatuma, soon joined by others. The reintegration of black rhinos into the wild population had as yet never been undertaken, however it became necessary for Rufus when he was aged five, after he took an intense dislike to one of his handlers whom he would attack on sight, despite being perfectly gentle and docile with everyone else. This was an extraordinary turn of events because Rufus was essentially a very quiet rhino, extremely docile, happy to be pampered by Daphne's two year old daughter, Angela. Some months after Rufus had been relocated to Aruba Dam, David Sheldrick was faced with the unpleasant task of having to shoot him to end his suffering, after he was found fatally injured by a pride of lions.


Born in 1963, this rhino was among those destined for relocation to Tsavo East National Park from an area known as Darajani, which had been set aside for human settlement. He was only about two years old when he arrived in 1965, far too young for even a slim chance of survival in the wild. He was therefore taken into the fold, and grew up alongside Rufus. He was given the name "Reudi" in honour of Reudi Schenkel, the Swiss Scientist who was conducting one of the pioneering studies on black rhino at the time.

When grown, and after the death of Rufus, Reudi was relocated to the Northern Area of Tsavo East, where he was kept under surveillance. The experience of Rufus had taught us the pitfalls of introducing a newcomer into an already resident rhino community, and in those days, rhinos were present in substantial numbers. Although he had a retreat in the form of a stout Night Stockade, he was nevertheless mercilessly hounded by a wild female, who even broke into his stockade at night and almost battered him to death. Reudi was moved to a newly created ring-fenced private ranch named Solio, owned by Court Parfet at the time, and situated near Nanyuki, and he was one of the very first rhinos introduced into the ranch. Here Reudi healed and flourished, growing up to be the highest ranking breeding bull. Solio ranch was later to yield the breeding nucleus that retrieved Kenya's black rhinos from virtual extinction, with Solio rhinos relocated to repopulate former National Parks where they had been all but annihilated by the rampant in-house poaching of the 80's and early 90's. Many of those that have retrieved the species were fathered by our orphan, Reudi. When old, and in his forties, he was fatally wounded by a younger bull in the age old battle for dominance, but Reudi will always be remembered for playing a pivotal role for the country and he lived a long and full life.


Orphaned in the mid sixties during a dryer than usual season, this female rhino orphan flourished from the start, since by now Daphne Sheldrick had figured out the milk requirements and necessary husbandry in order to rear an orphaned black rhino.  Later, at the request of the National Park's Director of the time, Stub was destined to be the first black rhino to be sent back to repopulate Elgon National Park on Kenya's Western boundary with Uganda.  Contrary to explicit instructions, however, while in transit Stub was placed in an enclosure in the Nairobi National Park animal orphanage with another already resident rhino, both to await translocation.  She was promptly killed by the other rhino, something that Daphne found very hard to reconcile.


Many orphans of all species came into David and Daphne's care during this time including more rhino orphans.


This female rhino, estimated to have been born in October 1970, came in in a terrible state, debilitated, loaded with blood parasites that cause Babesia and Trypanosomiasis, and suffering from pneumonia. Her mother was a victim of the terrible drought of 1970. For almost a month Stroppie could hardly even stand and she owes her life to two Doctors, the Harthoorn’s, a husband and wife team who managed to pull her through this early ordeal. She grew up to become one of the famous early orphans of Tsavo, her Nursery companion a young zebra stallion called "Punda".

In 1976, when David and Daphne Sheldrick left Tsavo to head the country's Protected Area Planning Unit, Stroppie and Pushmi were moved to the protected private Solio Ranch just as Reudi had been before them. Solio Ranch, by this time, harboured a population of some seventy-plus black rhinos, however all attempts for integration into the mainstream failed, so Stroppie and Pushmi lived out their lives in a beautiful 100 acres fenced off section of the Sanctuary safe from the unwanted attentions of the others. Stroppie died of old age at 38 years old.


Nicknamed Hoshim, was a young bull, orphaned along the Mbololo watercourse in October 1973, after his mother was disturbed by a passing vehicle immediately after giving birth. As a result, this calf had never suckled his mother and arrived on Daphne's doorstep, deposited by a tourist minibus, covered in fetal membranes. Fortunately, despite his difficult start, he thrived from day one, and along with Stroppie was ultimately moved to Solio Ranch in 1976. Like Stroppie, Pushmi lived a long life, but was eventually killed by poachers when he was nearly 40 years old. 


With the Trust established in 1977, based out of Nairobi National Park, rhinos orphans continued to be brought into Daphne's care.


Orphan Sam was born in the famous Maasai Mara in 1987, but his mother was unable to protect him from the numerous prides of lions. Both were moved to an island in the Mara River, but Sam's mother wanted to go back home, and swam across the river leaving her tiny calf squealing for help. The lions heard his cries, and went across to get him, mauling him badly before being driven off by the Rangers stationed there to protect him.

This orphan grew up with the first infant elephants Daphne reared, Olmeg and Taru, his stable companion a cuddly sheep called "Boozie" whom he loved dearly. He grew up to become an impressive bull, but then he and another orphaned rhino who came in soon afterwards began leaving the boundaries of Nairobi National Park onto the Kitengela plains. Both were moved to Tsavo in June 1993, the first of many that would eventually follow in their wake as free release candidates, not enclosed within an electric fence. Sam did not have a happy ending.  He refused to vacate a mud wallow in the Mbololo watercourse when a large bull elephant wanted it, and was tusked.  The injury was a fatal one, the tusk penetrating Sam’s colon.


Born in April 1987, her mother was speared by the Masai in Amboseli National Park when Amboseli she was just 6 months old. For five days before being found Amboseli gallantly protected the body of her slain mother from both vultures and all other predators. Being of an age when she understood who had killed her mother, her hate of humans was such that it took many weeks to calm her down after rescue. Normally rhinos are the easiest of animals to "tame", even when grown, but Amboseli proved the exception. She grew up in the Nairobi Nursery with Sam, and alongside him was the first to be free released in Tsavo National Park, followed by an intake of another twenty rhinos from Solio - (Reudi's progeny). Amboseli was mated by an ex-Nairobi bull called "Mathew", having two calves and she settled down in a home range. She was the last living Amboseli rhino, renowned for their exceptionally long horns, and through her calves, these vital genes live on in Tsavo.



A female calf, born during the Gulf War of 1991, who was very volatile when brought to the Nursery. Circling vultures were spotted in the Nairobi National Park by Dr. Richard Leakey, Kenya Wildlife Service Director at the time, and it was he who rescued the calf. The body of her mother was in an advanced state of decay, and like Amboseli, she had remained with her fallen mother, defending her body as best she could. In the process she had been mauled on the hindquarters by hyaenas and arrived into our care minus a tail. Although Scud never physically met Sam or Amboseli, who were for a short time still in Nairobi when she arrived, she missed their scent in the dung piles and urinals when they were moved to Tsavo, and she went into depression. However, she recovered and grew up to be a fine female asset, ultimately reintegrated back into Nairobi National Park when she’d been born, returning only intermittently to her Nursery base. We fully believed our role had been accomplished and that we could count Scud as another true success, until 20th May 1996, when she laboriously brought herself home, using her chin to support her weight, her right foreleg limp and useless. There were no serious wounds to suggest anything other than a serious crash on the right shoulder, possibly caused by putting a foot down a pig-hole at full gallop.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, Scud was 9 months pregnant, mated by a wild Nairobi Park bull.  She was immobilised and dragged onto a large tarpaulin before being towed to the Trust's rhino stockade, for all intents and purposes unconscious at the time. However, when she was revived, she remembered every detail of what had taken place, and this would ultimately have a bearing on Daphne's decision, when the time came later, to euthanize her and end her suffering.

The veterinary prognosis was never encouraging. Basically the radial nerve, which motivates all leg muscles, had been seriously damaged and only time could heal it, if at all. For the next 9 months we nursed Scud; trying everything we possibly could to encourage the healing of that vital nerve, but finally we had to accept that Scud faced life seriously crippled. She hobbled around as best she could on three legs, still desperate to keep in touch with the wild rhinos through the middens, but at all times she had to be accompanied by her Keepers, since she was not sufficiently agile to take evasive action should the need arise. We kept her well fed and as comfortable as possible and at 4 p.m. on 30th January 1997, her son "Magnum" was born.  The Keeper who had been with Scud when she first came into the Nursery was with her at the time, and Scud trusted him so implicitly that he was able to handle the tiny calf from the moment he arrived. Magnum was truly a rhino of two worlds, equally as comfortable with Scud's trusted Keepers as he was with his own mother. He was an adventurous little bundle, prone to galloping off on a run-about, then getting lost, and crying loudly for help. Scud could not keep up with him, and this distressed her terribly, causing her to fall and injure herself again and again. Finally, when Magnum was 3 weeks old, the Trust was faced with a terrible dilemma - to face losing a healthy calf to predators, or put his mother out of her agony, knowing that she would never be able to enjoy the quality of life she once knew as a free-ranging wild rhino. Scud was euthanised on the 21st February 1997 and Magnum became an orphan of the Trust. 


Magnum was born at 4.00 pm on 30th January 1997, the son of our orphaned rhino "Scud", also born in Nairobi National Park, to a rhino cow named “Main Gate”, who had been found dead when Scud was just 3 months old. Scud had to be euthanized when Magnum was just three weeks old, crippled by a serious fall that severed the radial nerve of a front leg, leaving the leg paralysed.

For many weeks following the death of his mother, Magnum searched for her, crying pathetically and revisiting all the places they once shared, but finally he attached himself to another infant rhino, named Magnet, who had been brought in just days before.

Like Sam and Amboseli, these two rhinos were reared together in our Nairobi Nursery, for three years attended by their Keepers doing the rounds of the wild rhino dung-piles and urinals to become known to the resident wild community. They were inseparable, Magnet replacing the mother figure that Magnum had lost in infancy. His love for her superseded even that given to his Keepers, and by February 2001 both were independent of their Keepers, out and about free ranging in Nairobi National Park, but returning periodically to touch base back at the Trust Headquarters. However, tragedy struck when Magnet died mysteriously just some 500 metres from the Trust premises in 2002. Magnum is wild living in Nairobi National Park


Magnet was born in February 1997 to a Nairobi Park cow named "Edith" and was separated from her mother when just 1 week old by the illegal incursion of Masai cattle into the Park. The mother fled, leaving her baby calling pathetically, which alerted the Rangers at Masai Gate to her presence. She was brought to us early one morning by the Rangers while the KWS Surveillance team tried to locate the mother, but by the time they had done so, five days had elapsed, and the likelihood of her rejecting her calf due to the human scent and time lapse was very real. Everyone decided that Magnet should be reared as an orphan, so that the mother would cycle again, and have another baby, which is what happened. Magnum and Magnet became inseparable, raised together, and integrated into the resident rhino community of Nairobi National Park together. She was a magnificent rhino, with prominent creases and folds in the skin more akin to a Great Indian rhino than an African Black rhino. As such she was very distinctive and easily recognisable when grown.

By Magnet’s behaviour in February 2001, when she was five years old, we were sure that she was ready to be mated. She was fierce and unapproachable for about 3 weeks, and even aggressive towards Magnum, who took to returning alone, often carrying war wounds. However, thereafter things returned to normal, and the two again became inseparable companions, so we assumed that Magnet had been mated by a wild bull, Magnum being of too low rank to aspire to being a breeding male.

Unbeknownst to us tragedy had struck on the 19th February 2002, when Magnet was found dead by the Rhino Surveillance team, a mere 500 metres from the Trust premises. Astonishingly, we were never told, and she was hurriedly buried at night. We were puzzled that Magnum was again returning alone, and seemed so dejected and miserable, but assumed that Magnet might again be consorting with a wild bull. Then a whisper from the labour lines that a rhino had been buried at night alerted us to the fact that something was very wrong, and after further investigation, KWS confessed to the fact that the buried rhino was none other than our orphan Magnet. 

Meet the rhino orphans in our care