Lomshiyo’s (Lomshi’s) story is hard to even begin to put down in the written word. There have been times when we have thought that he might not make it. He is still not ‘out of the woods’ and has a long road to recovery ahead of him.
On the 9th August 2020, a rhino calf was rescued by the SANParks team at Renosterpan (Rhino Pan) in the Kruger National Park. The irony of this location is by no means lost and seems to bring an even heavier sense of tragedy. Lomshi was too big to fit into the SANParks helicopter, and so the CFW team drove to the Kruger National Park to collect him. SANParks’ State Veterinarian, Dr Louis van Schalkwyk, and pilot, David Simelane, darted the calf and slung him under the helicopter as they transported him to the collection point. A special thank you to Section Ranger, Don English, Malelane Section Ranger, Albert Smith, the SANParks field rangers, and Louis Strauss of Jock Safari, Lodge for their efforts in this rapid rescue.
Lomshi was placed on IV fluids and secured safely into the travelling crate ready for the journey back to the sanctuary. He arrived at CFW in the late afternoon and was taken to the ICU where Petronel and the team were waiting. Here, the process of assessment and stabilisation began.
What followed over the next few weeks would be the uncovering of the true extent of what Lomshi had experienced in the veldt. It would take true deductive thinking, veterinary support and the dedication and commitment of the team to truly understand and piece together Lomshi’s story. We have been slowly putting the puzzle 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 diagnosed as possible sunburn. This seemed highly unlikely. Why would a rhino calf develop sunburn when they are designed to live in the African sun? We struggled to find answers at this stage, but his sunburn was treated with aloe vera, and his back began to heal.
Due to his age and size, and because he did not move enough, Lomshi did not stay in the ICU for long. He was quickly moved down to the bigger bomas. As Lomshi’s blindfold and ear plugs were removed and he walked into his new nightpen, something seemed to be ‘off.’ He was exceptionally calm and very quiet. His ears drooped and he lay down and went to sleep. Staff continued to monitor him and when Lomshi eventually stood up to eat, his movements were slow and stiff. As he walked towards the water trough, staff could see that his back legs seemed painful and when sleeping, he would lay only on his one side. He seemed to exude a resigned sadness. We were very worried.
Dr Albertus Coetzee attended to Lomshi. Lomshi had no obvious external injuries but blood samples revealed an alarming degree of muscle damage. A closer examination and palpitations of his body revealed severe bruising to his one side. With this new information, we started to piece together Lomshi’s story. We believe that he was walking alone for maybe 4-5 days before rescuers found him. It is possible that he may have tried to join another crash but was injured in the process and potentially, knocked out by a dominant bull. A calf laying exposed to the African sun for hours could develop sunburn. Just prior to his rescue, he was spotted grazing with a herd of zebras, perhaps looking for any kind of safety and security in numbers. At this time of year, the desolate and barren wilderness presented few drinking pools and so he went to the only place that he knew there was some water remaining. His saving grace and the place of his rescue.
Dr Albertus administered intravenous and rectal fluids. Lomshi was given pain relief and an array of multivitamins to help with muscle regeneration. When he woke up, Lomshi met with Khanya’s crash in an attempt to lift his spirits and give him a sense of belonging. Although the group were exceptionally gentle with him, Lomshi just did not fit in. Lomshi continued to barely exist. He ticked all the boxes for survival; sleeping, walking, eating, and drinking but he was not happy, and he began to deteriorate.
Things were not looking good but the one thing that we never do is to give up! Petronel decided to see whether older rhino Dianna could help. Dianna herself was saved by the influence of little Bejamin just one year earlier. It was as if Dianna knew the severity of the situation and exactly what she needed to do to help save Lomshi. Dianna is a feisty rhino and caregivers give her a wide birth, but on this particular night, Dianna and the CFW team joined forces.
Lomshi was very weak as Petronel and the staff worked to get him to take a bottle of milk. Dianna stood close by and watched the scene unfold. Suddenly, she quietly walked over to the group, looked at Petronel and the team, then gently touched her face to Lomshi’s. She stayed beside him and rested her head next to his. It is impossible to know for certain what transpired that night, but one thing is for sure. As Lomshi started to suckle from the bottle, Dianna gave Lomshi the comfort and reassurance needed to live in a world without his Mom.
Dianna remained close to him throughout the night and even today, she is never far from his side. A surrogate mother figure, offering security and support as he progresses through his rehabilitation journey. Lomshi is still weak and there is a lot of healing that needs to take place, but each day Lomshi takes another step forward.
The degree of devastation, loss, fear, pain and sorrow in his 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.
Lomshi is named after the local Lomshiyo Community. Lomshiyo means ‘neglected one.’ However, the relationship blossoming under the growing relationship between the community and rhino conservation brings hope for the future. A suitable name for a calf that is the very symbol of overcoming adversity.