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 heavy 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 his Timbavati team had located signs of the calf and were close on his trail. With the harsh weather, the helicopter would be unable to fly the baby to the sanctuary and so Petronel deployed the CFW team to drive the three hours to collect the calf by road.
The transportation crate and emergency bag were loaded, and the team departed. Just 20 minutes into the drive, the fog began to lift but only to be replaced by a torrential downpour of rain. Driving conditions were extremely hazardous and visibility was next to nothing. Traffic moved at a snail like pace, a never-ending stream of taillights lay ahead. 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 the young baby moved further into the bush. Unable to dart the calf until the CFW team were closer, the Timbavati team worked meticulously to keep him in their sights. A special thank you and acknowledgement of dedication goes to Conservation Officer, Jandrè Coetzee, 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 hazard lights and began to meander through the traffic. The weather was worsening, and nobody knew whether the helicopter would even 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 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 on the back seats. Safe at last. As the weather began to turn 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 him in with blankets and hot water bottles as they prepared to depart into the storm again.
Night was falling fast when the team stopped to check their sleeping calf. They changed his drips, refilled his hot water bottles and bought more blankets to block the draughts and keep him warm. Four hours after their departure from the Timbavati, the CFW team pulled up to the ICU where Petronel and the rest of the team were waiting to receive Ranger. He was warm and sleepy as he was carried 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. These orphans will one day enter a rewilding and release programme together.
But as Ranger walked into his new nightpen and his blindfold was removed, staff noticed a problem. Ranger had developed corneal ulcers in both of his eyes. Ulcers such as this can develop from a physical trauma, irritation, dust and debris in the eyes, or as a result of the prohibited blink reflex during immobilisation. Ranger would need to stay on his own and in the dark for the next few days as he underwent treatment to heal his eyes. Caregivers administered drops in both of his eyes at each of his milk feeds. 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.
Ranger is named in recognition of the efforts of the Timbavati Conservation Officer and in honour of wildlife rangers around the world who devote themselves to the protection and conservation of wildlife.