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Being orphaned is a profoundly traumatic event and many orphans sustain physical and psychological injuries before our rescue teams arrive. Equipped with milk, stretchers to carry the orphan and vital medicines, including drips, our highly experienced team can offer immediate aid at the scene and throughout the rescue.
Young rhinos are fragile and at our fully protected Nursery, based in Nairobi National Park, our Keepers provide 24-hour attention and intensive care to orphaned calves.
When rearing rhino orphans, as with elephants, different Keepers act as a calf’s mother figure to ensure the baby does not form too strong a bond with any one person. This could otherwise lead to problems should a Keeper be away for any reason. From the moment an infant arrives in our care, we therefore rotate the Keepers, so that the rhino is willing to follow more than one carer.
Rhinos are extremely vulnerable to predators, and protecting the calf at night is paramount during the first three years. Initially, infants sleep in a small, secure stable to help them feel safe and, as they grow, they spend the night in a more spacious stockade.
New born calves are bottle fed nutritious milk every three hours from dusk till dawn. Once a rhino reaches five months of age and begins to nibble on vegetation, they do not need milk during the night, and their last daily milk feed takes place at 6pm. Instead, we place suitable freshly-cut greens (browse) within the stable at night and a bowl of bran, mixed with minerals, to provide further dietary supplementation. While it is not necessary for a Keeper to remain with the baby overnight for feeds, it is important to place an article of a known Keeper's clothing in the calf’s stable so that their familiar scent is there – rhinos being all about scent and territory.
Baby rhinos are incredibly playful animals and exercise and play are vital to help a calf grow strong, release energy and discover its natural environment. Mud is an important part of good skincare for all animals that do not have fur and we take rhino calves to a mud wallow on warm days. Plastering the body in soft mud not only seals moisture in the skin but it protects the animal from biting insects and the sun.
Once a baby rhino outgrows his or her enclosed stable they are relocated to a more spacious stockade for sleeping. At this time, it is vital to take their dung and use it to establish a dung pile within the new quarters. This ensures a seamless process when changing up the routine from stable to stockade, as rhinos are creatures of habit and routine, and can find change to their daily routine traumatic.
Reintegration is a gradual process with the ultimate aim to return orphans to the wild when grown - where they belong. Unlike elephants, who as a species are extremely social and thus relatively straight forward to reintegrate, raising and reintegrating rhinos is a complex and challenging process in fact, it is the reintegration process that is the most challenging period
Right from the outset, our Keepers walk the calf around the dung piles and urinals of the established wild rhino community. This occurs on a daily basis, from dawn until dusk, giving the rhino time to investigate scent trails and contribute to the dung piles, ultimately becoming familiar and accepted by the wild living residents of Nairobi National Park. Since the Nursery is located in Nairobi National Park, which is a very successful rhino sanctuary for both black and white rhinos, it is the ideal location for raising and, critically, successfully reintegrating orphaned rhinos back to the wild.
Once a rhino calf is between three and four years old, their stockade doors can be left open at night so that the calf can venture out and make physical contact with the local wild rhinos as and when they choose, but with a familiar base to return to when needed. By this time, the calf will no longer be overly dependent on its Keepers, but he or she will always respond to them.
This slow and steady rehabilitation and reintegration process, underpinned by routine and familiarity, which is required to raise a milk dependent orphan rhino to adulthood can span up to eight years before the orphan is ready to fully fly the nest.
For orphaned rhinos rescued by the Trust, Nairobi National Park offers a secure and natural habitat that is home to an established rhino population of both black and white rhinos, well protected from poaching. Several rhinos hand raised by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust have gone on to have their own wild born calves, a testament to their successful reintegration, despite having been hand-raised by humans.