An unusual sense of foreboding filtered heavily through the sanctuary on the morning of the 31st August 2020. The soft light, and warmer breezes that normally precede the arrival of Summer, had been replaced with a damp, bitterly cold, and grey morning. The mist lay thick and heavily over the mountains…and then the call came.
A small rhino calf had been spotted wandering alone in the Timbavati close to the body of a deceased rhino cow. A calf so small in the barren veldt, and surrounded by hungry hyena, would not survive long. The rescue mission was already underway. Edwin Pierce and the Timbavati team had located signs of the calf and were close on his trail. With the harsh weather, the helicopter was unable to fly the baby directly to Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary. Petronel decided to deploy the Care for Wild (CFW) team and they set off on the three hour drive to collect the calf.
Just 20 minutes into the drive, the fog lifted, but only to be replaced by a torrential downpour of rain. Driving conditions were hazardous and visibility was next to nothing. Traffic moved at a snail like pace, a never-ending stream of tail lights. Tensions were beginning to rise as the CFW team struggled to make their way through. At the Timbavati, concerns for the calf were also climbing as he moved further into the bush. Unable to dart the baby until the CFW team were closer, the Timbavati team worked meticulously to keep the calf in their sights. A special thank you and acknowledgement of dedication goes to Jandre Coetzee, the Conservation Officer, who ran 7km after the calf to ensure he remained safe until the vets arrived.
In a final attempt to reach the calf quickly, the CFW team turned on the vehicle hazard lights and began to meander through the traffic. The weather was worsening, and nobody knew whether the vet would be able to fly in order to dart the calf. As the CFW team reached the Timbavati there was a sudden break in the weather; the rain stopped, and the wind calmed. The helicopter took off, expertly flown by pilot, Gerry Macdonald, and accompanied by wildlife veterinarian, Dr Joel Alves.
The CFW team waited anxiously at the airstrip for the helicopter to return. As it landed safely back on the ground, Ranger, as he would later be named, lay sleeping peacefully on the back seat. Safe at last. As the weather began to change yet again, the CFW and Timbavati team worked quickly and seamlessly to safely secure Ranger into the travelling crate. He was placed on a drip to combat his shock and dehydration. Temperatures continued to drop as CFW staff tucked Ranger in with blankets and hot water bottles before departing into the storm.
Night was falling fast. When the team stopped to check their sleeping calf, they refilled his hot water bottles and bought more blankets from the shops to block the draughts and keep him warm. Four hours after their departure from the Timbavati, the CFW team drove up to their Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where Petronel and the rest of the team were waiting to receive Ranger. He was stable and warm and carried smoothy into the ICU building. Round the clock observations and monitoring commenced and as Ranger began to wake up, he quickly took the bottle of milk that was offered to him.
Ranger was estimated to be around 8 months old and similar in size to fellow orphan, Yster. After only 48 hours in the ICU, Ranger was moved to the bomas to be introduced to Anchor, Yster and Cotton. It is so important that the calves are introduced to other rhinos as soon as possible so that they can form emotional bonds with each other.
But as Ranger walked into this nightpen and his blindfold was removed, staff noticed a problem. Ranger had developed corneal ulcers on both is eyes. Ulcers such as this can develop from physical trauma, irritation, dust and debris in the eyes, or as a result of the blink reflex being hindered during immobilisation. Ranger would need to stay in his own nightpen and in dark conditions for the next few days as he underwent treatment to heal his eyes. Caregivers administered drops in both his eyes five times a day whilst he drank his milk. Ranger was exceptionally tolerant and quickly, his eyes began to clear.
When Ranger finally walked out of his nightpen, Anchor, Yster and Cotton were delighted to meet their new neighbour, but Ranger only had eyes for one rhino! He fell in love with Cotton instantly! Fortunately, the feeling was mutual, and Cotton and Ranger have been inseparable ever since.
Not long after Ranger’s arrival, Tom became the fifth orphan to join the crash. Fred arrived in October 2020 and brought the family of orphans to a total of six babies. This crash of orphans has been affectionately called “The CRAFTY Six’ with the name originating from the first letter of all of their names.
Ranger drinks 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.
Yster 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.