A Race Against Time: The Rapid Rescue of Orphaned Rhino Calves

The rapid rescue of a newly orphaned rhino calf is crucial in saving it from danger and certain death, as its chances of survival decrease with each passing hour. Rhino calves depend on their mothers for milk until they are approximately 17 months old and can stay with them for up to four years. Without the protection of their mothers, they are completely vulnerable and will die from starvation, dehydration, or attacks from predators such as lions and hyenas.

Care for Wild works closely with SANParks, provincial parks, and private rhino owners to rescue orphaned or injured rhinos. The rescue process begins by locating the calf and often involves an air and ground team of incredibly dedicated rangers. A registered veterinarian then darts and immobilises the baby. This is followed by the placement of a blindfold and earplugs to reduce the stress of external stimuli. After immobilization, the calf is transported to Care for Wild either by road or airlifted by helicopter.

Upon arrival at Care for Wild, the calf is immediately transferred to our purpose-built Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for assessment and round-the-clock care and monitoring by a highly dedicated and trained team of professional caregivers. Some calves that enter the facility have severe injuries, such as machete or bullet wounds inflicted by poachers, or severe wounds from lions and hyenas. In such cases, a specialist veterinary team supports with wound and medical care as well as pain management.

During the first 24 hours in ICU, the Care for Wild team stabilises the calf. As the calf slowly wakes up from the effects of the immobilisation, staff offer the first bottle of milk. Each calf has their own personality but all calves are severely traumatised and afraid.

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They require a patient, compassionate, and dedicated approach to build trust with the caregivers. The desensitisation process begins with removing the earplugs and blindfolds, as the calf begins to associate the caregivers positively with milk. Once stable, new calves are introduced to other orphans of a similar age with whom they can form close emotional bonds, which helps to comfort and support them and facilitates a successful rehabilitation and rewilding program.


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