From day one, the odds were against Lomshi. The true extent of his trauma remains guess work, small pieces of information slowly pieced together as they revealed themselves.
On the 9th August 2020, a rhino calf was spotted alone at Renosterpan in the Kruger National Park (KNP). He was estimated to be around 14 months old and too big to fit into the SANParks helicopter. SANParks’ State Veterinarian, Dr Louis van Sckalkwyk, and pilot, Davie Simelane, darted the calf and slung him underneath the helicopter to fly him to a safe collection point. A special thank you to Section Ranger, Don English, Malalane Section Ranger, Albert Smith, the SANParks field rangers, and Louis Strauss of Jock Safari Lodge, for their efforts in this rapid rescue.
The Care for Wild (CFW) team were waiting to collect Lomshi but before he could travel, Dr Schalkwyk placed him on intravenous fluids to combat dehydration. He arrived at CFW in the late afternoon and was taken immediately to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Here, the process of assessment and stabilisation began.
What followed over the next few weeks would reveal the true extent of Lomshi’s suffering. We have been slowly putting the pieces together and what we have discovered is heart breaking.
When Lomshi arrived at the ICU, he had a strange, red, raw, rash like pattern on his back. After veterinary consultation, this was suspected to be possible sunburn. However, given that rhinos are adapted to live under the African sun, this seemed unlikely and unusual. Nevertheless, we treated his sunburn with aloe vera and quickly, his back began to heal.
Lomshi moved from the ICU very quicky, needing more space to walk around properly. As Lomshi’s blindfold and ear plugs were removed and he walked into his new nightpen, something seemed strange. Lomshi was very calm and very quiet. His ears seemed to droop. He lay down quietly in the corner and went to sleep. Staff continued to monitor him carefully. It wasn’t long before he stood up and walked over to the water trough where he began to drink. He then turned his attention to the food and slowly began to eat. All of his movements were slow and stiff. As he walked around, staff could see that his back legs seemed painful. He would lay only on his one side. He was very sad.
Dr Albertus Coetzee attended to Lomshi. For supportive care, we administered more intravenous and rectal fluids to ensure he was well hydrated. He was also given pain relief and multivitamins. Blood samples were obtained, and a thorough examination of his body revealed extensive bruising to the one side. Along with his droopy ears and stiffness in his legs, it appeared that Lomshi had sustained some kind of spinal injury.
Given his condition on arrival, he may have been walking alone for 5-7 days before rescuers found him. We think that he may have been injured by a dominant elephant bull, or perhaps he tried to join another crash of rhinos but was not welcomed. A hard knock from either an elephant or a rhino could have knocked Lomshi unconscious. A calf laying exposed to the African sun for hours could develop sunburn. Just prior to his rescue, Lomshi was spotted grazing with a herd of zebras. Perhaps he was just desperately seeking companionship and safety in numbers.
Under the guidance of Dr Albertus Coetzee, we started Lomshi on a course of pain relief, anti-inflammatories and supplements that would aid in his recovery. He may never fully recover and might always have slightly hanging ears and an unusual gait. However, he is already much improved and despite his quirkiness, we love him dearly. He will always be cared for and protected at CFW.
In an attempt to lift his spirits and give him company, Lomshi was introduced to Khanya, Rose, Ruby and Fern, but they were indifferent to his presence. Already a close-knit group, this was clearly not the crash for him. Lomshi was so depressed and lonely. He was barley eating and it seemed as though he was giving up. However, at CFW we do not give up!
Petronel decided that although Lomshi was technically weaned, the nutritional advantages of taking milk would really help to sustain him. The easy digestible protein and comforting nature of suckling would help reduce his stress. As we worked to encourage Lomshi to drink, Petronel decided to bring in another wild card. This wild card took the form of slightly older rhino orphan, Dianna.
Dianna lost her Mom when she was around three years old. A much older and wilder orphan, she herself, struggled to adapt but was saved by the influence of little Bejamin. Dianna is very feisty. She tolerates her human caregivers but ensures they maintain a substantial distance and grant her the respect she deserves. But on this particular night, when Lomshi was at his weakest, Dianna and the CFW team seemed to join forces.
Dianna walked calmly up to Lomshi and laid her head next to his. It’s impossible to know for certain what transpired but the look that she gave the team said, ‘You need to do something right now or he will not make it.’ With Dianna close by and the CFW team encouraging him to drink, Lomshi seemed to understand that all hope was not lost, and he started to suckle.
Dianna remained close to him throughout the night. Benji was at first a little ‘put out’ at having to share his friend, but quickly accepted Lomshi as part of the family. Each day saw Lomshi gain in strength and energy. Dianna never let him far from her sights and made sure to supervise every bottle feed! Incredibly protective, she gave Lomshi the emotional support and encouragement that he needed.
Just before Christmas, rhino orphan Zac joined the trio. Zac is around five years old. He has been released twice and both times he has returned to the sanctuary. Zac also appears to have developed an unusual gait and strange stiffness in his legs, possibly from an injury with another bull. He fits in very well with this new crash.
In January 2021, Kai became the fifth member to join this family of orphans. Lomshi and Kai are of a similar age and have adopted a brother like relationship. They definitely keep Dianna on her toes!
The degree of devastation, loss, fear, pain and sorrow in Lomshi’s story is as equally great in its degree of bravery, determination, inspiration, empathy and hope. Lomshi’s story gave us another new insight into the emotional connection between rhinos and the role that other orphan’s play in their recovery.
For now, Lomshi will remain in the rehabilitation programme. Every day, he and his family walk to their camp in the mornings where they graze and play throughout the day. At night, they return to the bomas and a cosy nightpen. When the whole crash is strong enough, they will enter into the rewilding and release programme together.