To try an envisage the terror and fear that this little rhino calf endured, leaves you experiencing a whole myriad of emotions. Heartbreak, anger, frustration, rage, sadness, fury, resentment, sorrow, grief…but, to see this little orphan land at the helipad safe and sleeping quietly under the watchful eyes of his rescuers, also fills you with other feelings. Feelings of hope, drive, passion, commitment, dedication, determination and a boundless energy to make sure that this little one is fine. That he never feels fear again. That he can grow up to live in safety and peace with his own kind.
Fred was orphaned by poachers in the Kruger National Park (KNP) on 30th October 2020 when he was just 3 months old. It is believed that his Mom was shot, but only died from her injuries some days later. A brutal and horrific situation. Little Fred would have stuck by his Mom until her last breath and Fred’s Mom would have comforted him and tried to protect him, until she died.
After his Mom died, Fred was completely alone and in serious danger. Barely even nibbling on grass, Fred was solely dependent on the milk from his Mom as well as her safety and protection. Fred dehydrated very quickly and began to grow weaker. He was lucky not to fall victim to opportunistic hyena or lions before his rescuers found him. The significance of the rapid rescue must be highlighted here in its gravity of importance. Identifying and finding orphans such as Fred quickly, reduces complications in their adaptation and rehabilitation. The longer they spend alone, the less likely their chance of survival.
Fred was flown to Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary by SANParks pilot Brad Grafton and was accompanied by SANParks Veterinarian, Dr Peter Buss and Section Ranger, Don English. After landing at the Care for Wild (CFW) helipad, little Fred was lifted from the chopper and placed gently on the ground where he was given intravenous fluids. DNA samples were also taken, and he was given a microchip implant. Every rhino calf has their own unique microchip number. Blood samples were also collected to add to the data in our orphaned rhino, blood profile bank.
Fred went straight to the CFW Intensive care Unit (ICU) where he slept until the early evening, but his sleep was not peaceful. Nightmares terrorised him and he woke crying and thrashing around. Petronel and the CFW team never left his side as they comforted him and encouraged him to drink his milk.
The trust of every new orphan has to be earned. Their last encounter with humans would not have been pleasant. We use the positive association of warm, sweet milk to create this important bond. Fred was very hungry, but he was also very scared. He only began to suckle properly the next morning. Fred was so small that he could not consume large volumes of milk. Just like Anchor, he was fed every two hours through the day and night by our dedicated team.
On his second evening in the ICU, we removed Fred’s first ear plug. For the first time, he was able to connect the voices of his caregivers with the positive association of milk. Petronel decided that Fred should move down to the bigger bomas the next morning. It was important that he meet his new family as soon as possible as they would be able to offer him companionship and comfort as he adjusted to life without his Mom.
When we introduced Fred to his new crash, we couldn’t believe how small he looked. Even Anchor was bigger than him! Fred was still very scared and unsure. He ran around calling and searching for his Mom. The weather suddenly changed, and the skies became heavy and black. The rain started and still little Fred searched for his Mom. This is where we can sometimes underestimate the emotional intelligence of animals and when reminded, we are simply blown away.
Just as with Ranger and Tom, Cotton went to comfort Fred. Her calm and reassuring demeanour instantly comforted him as she ushered him into the warmth of the nightpen. Fred was automatically defensive as he encountered the rest of the crash, needlessly but understandably, trying to protect himself. Cotton calmed the group and soon they were all asleep in one giant rhino calf bundle.
Over the next few weeks, Fred became quite a little handful! He spent most of his time growling and charging the other orphans. Fortunately, his new family took it all in their stride and empathetically allowed the youngest and tiniest member of their crash to carry on with his antics. As Fred continued to receive no response, he began to settle, and learnt that he didn’t need to be on the defensive all the time.
This crash of orphans has been affectionately called “The CRAFTY Six’ with the name originating from the first letter of all of their names. Over time, Fred developed a close friendship with Tom, but he will always remain close to Cotton if he feels unsure or overwhelmed. Fred is drinking 16L of milk a day and will continue to drink milk until the age of about 16 months old.
The CRAFTY Six currently spend their days walking, playing and grazing in their day camp as their tummies adjust to eating solids. At night-time, they return to the bomas and a cosy nightpen.
Fred and his crash will continue with their rehabilitation programme until all six orphans are fully weaned and strong enough to move onto the first phase of the rewilding and release programme as we prepare them to be the rhinos they are meant to be.