Heart-tugging Tales from the Rhino Orphanage


Managing a rhino orphanage means that we have Rhino Monday to Sunday !

Rhino have a lot more personality and character than most people generally assume. They are inquisitive, playful and even show a sense of humour. As for intelligence, they have it when they need it but don’t waste energy on writing theses or showing off their intellectual prowess. Unlike elephant, rhino ‘don’t do’ the whole emotional angst thing.

Don’t believe me? Spend a day with these incredible creatures and you will never think of rhino in the same way again.

Nyani, our prematurely born calf was out on a walk yesterday when we came across a large toktokkie beetling along. Nyani put her lips very gently onto the beetle. The beetle dropped down and kept dead still. She lifted her head and he starting walking again; so she put her lips on him and he stopped – this was repeated a few times until she got bored and he beetled off happily. Walks with our rhino tracking dog Duma now involve a shuffle between the two of them over the ball ( and she knows exactly how to wind him up and chase him when his puppy behavior gets too much). Last night she was fascinated by a praying mantis on the wall, hopping and squeaking away in horror when it flittered against her face. Nyani has the pillow issue sorted. As a high risk prem calf we have someone with her 24 hours a day. There is no ‘my pillow, – your pillow’ , the pillows are all ‘her’ pillows (and she is very subtle about how she moves in to take full possession).

Nyani climbing up to pillows.

We have our black rhino who plays games with the sliding barrier. We slide it open, he slides it closed. This game can go on for as long as he thinks he needs to keep us amused. He doesn’t want to get out and makes no move to push through the gate, it is simply a game. That prehensile black rhino lip gets up to all kinds of mischief and he will fiddle for hours to remove a cotter pin or latch that we thought was rhino proof and couldn’t be removed.

Pemba and Muffin, two little bull calves of 5 and 7 months spend hours chasing warthog and guinea fowl, waiting patiently until the prey get close enough and then chasing them round and around the camp. At other times, they will tolerate the hogs and fowl within two inches of their horns and not blink at eye.

The group of six have a thing for hats – not the conventional kind, the rubber water bowl and trough kind. It is not unusual to walk into the boma to find at least one of them wearing a rubber water trough on its head or horn. Ntombi, the calf who survived a brutal panga assault knows exactly how to get attention (and milk) at night….she simply bangs the door to her sleeping quarter as hard as she can until room ( or is that boma) service arrives.

The “Hooligans” Ntombi, Nkwe, and Pemba

The rhino poaching crisis is horrific and our rhino are being subjected to unbelievable levels of cruelty and suffering, But rhino are incredibly tough and are the stoics of the animal world. Not a day goes by that I am not humbled by the ability of these rhino calves to survive incredible trauma and injuries against all odds and just get on with it. If they can fight this hard to survive ; we have no excuse not to carry on fighting and ensure that this incredible specie is not lost.

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