Rescue and rehab

Watch: Vet shares inspiring story of black rhino that survived poaching attempt (South Africa)

By Antipoaching, Rescue and rehab No Comments
Stefan de Villiers, Lowvelder | May 22, 2020

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It is believed that there are just over 5,000 black rhinos left in the world, critically endangered.

Thus, the survival of each and every one of the species is paramount to its continued existence.

This is why a dedicated team has been doing everything in their power to ensure the well-being of Goose, a female black rhino, who escaped the clutches of poachers near Satara Rest Camp in 2018.
“It soon became obvious that she had severe injuries on her hind leg. It is suspected that she was shot by poachers. After her foot got infected, the sole of her foot fell off,” said SANParks veterinarian, Peter Buss, who in the video below shares the in-depth details of her recovery.

“She will never have a normal foot again due to the extent of her injuries. We hope that she will be able to walk on it again, and hopefully later have calves,” said Buss.

He is part of a large team of vets, rangers and specialist animal carers who in collaboration with Saving the Survivors have spent the past 20 months using groundbreaking techniques to ensure the rhino’s survival.

Frolicking rhino calves will warm your heart (South Africa)

By Rescue and rehab No Comments
The Review | May 10, 2020

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The Rhino Orphanage, a project founded by Peet Cilliers and Arrie van Deventer in 2012, is the world’s first registered non-profit company that saves and rehabilitates orphaned rhino calves injured or traumatised by rhino poaching.

Photo as published by Bosveld Weekend Review. Mapimpi, the rhino.

The words Nthlo ya lerato, found on the logo, translates to ‘the house of love’, and aptly so too, as unconditional love is the dedicated mantra with which these animals are cared for.

Farm Manager Yolande van der Merwe, says in 95% of orphaned rhino cases, the mothers were killed by poachers.  The calves are most often left behind. “Not all calves, however, survive. Sometimes they were hurt so badly that they have to be put down”.

One of the small calves at the orphanage, Ntombi, is testimony of a good survival. She had been hacked 21 times when her mother was poached, the panga penetrating her skull. She was just two months old when she arrived at the shelter.

The orphanage is the first specialist, dedicated, non-commercial centre that cares for orphaned or injured baby rhinos with the only aim of releasing them back into the wild. It was created as the result of a lack of a specialised place for rearing baby rhinos left orphaned as a result of poaching.

“In 2011, one of our neighbours called for assistance. Two of his rhino cows were killed by poachers.  One had a young calf. The other rhinos were scattered all over the farm and Arrie was called in to assist with his helicopter to find the other rhinos,” Van der Merwe said.

After establishing there was no rehabilitation centre, the experience sparked Van Deventer to open the orphanage. He flew in experts who could advise him and, in the end, it proved to be a learning process to get the facility functional and safe for the rhinos and their carers. Van Deventer realised it would be a costly exercise and to this day, funds remain the biggest challenge.

For Van Deventer, saving just one calf makes the effort worthwhile. The four permanent staff members and many volunteers have seen many calves, of which 17 have been successfully released back into the wild over the years.

He is determined that the species won’t become extinct on his watch. “But we need all the help we can get. What will we tell our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren if we lose this species? We are responsible for the animals. It is one of the proudest, most wonderful species in this world.”

Caring for the young calves is exceptionally hard work. Human carers have to sit with the young ones day and night. They are fed at all hours, are comforted, their bellies rubbed, and they are played with yes, sometimes carers end up with bruises too.  “The older calves take it really hard, calling for their mothers for up to two weeks,” said Van Merwe, “we can easily pull a 72-hour shift with two to three hours’ sleep”.

Readers can watch the antics of the calves and their carers on the Facebook page of The Rhino Orphanage.

During the lockdown, videos of the calves and their progress are aired – from their arrival at the orphanage to their everyday antics. It is truly worth a look to see the friendship between rhino calves Evie and Ryan, how the orphaned rhinos enjoy mud baths and just learn about socialising.  The antics of little Mapimpi, who was but a week old when arriving at the orphanage on 8 March, will warm your heart.

When the lockdown was announced, the volunteers from abroad had their visas revoked and had to return home. The situation has left the orphanage with some challenges as the younger calves need human carers day and night. Van Deventer advertised on social media, and received hundreds of applications from people willing to assist.

·        White rhinos are classified as near-threatened, while black rhinos are still seen as critically endangered.

·        You can ‘adopt’ Mapimpi or any other baby rhino at the orphanage.

For more information, go to

Covid-19 could be a ‘potential lifeline’ for rhinos — but it’s complicated

By Conservation, Rescue and rehab, Tourism No Comments
By Elizabeth Sleith, Sunday Times | May 10, 2020

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What does the halting of global travel and eco-tourism mean for the embattled rhino? Elizabeth Sleith looks for answers

We’ve all seen those pics lately of nature running wild while humans hide from Covid-19. Goats gone gangsta in Llandudno, Wales, penguins jaywalking in Simon’s Town, monkeys making bollemakiesies into pools in Mumbai … all good for a viral-video chuckle, but hardly victories for conservation.

One creature that may turn out to benefit, however, is the rhino — at least, this is the hope of Fabrice Orengo de Lamazière, co-owner of the Motswari Private Game Reserve in Limpopo and co-founder of Rhino Disharmony. Since 2014, that campaign has tackled poaching by trying to raise awareness in the places where horns are sold and thus bring down demand.

Orengo de Lamazière says Covid-19 is of course devastating for humans, but it is a “potential lifeline” for rhinos.

Mainly, this is because of the suspected origin of the virus: a gigantic “wet” market in Wuhan, China, where animals of all varieties could be bought live, or slaughtered before customers’ eyes.

Epidemiologists say the danger with such markets — common across Asia — is that the animals are typically densely packed, making it easier for diseases to spread from species to species, and ultimately to “jump” to humans in circumstances where hygiene standards are difficult to maintain. This is what is thought to have happened in Wuhan.

China, of course, has been here before. Fingers were pointed at wet markets after the SARS outbreak of 2003, and authorities promptly cracked down on them — but eased restrictions as the health crisis abated. With Covid-19, the signs are promising that the practice could end for good.

In February, China announced a ban on the farming and consumption of wildlife, which is expected to be signed into law this year. The southern city of Shenzhen went further, extending the ban to eating dogs and cats.

That, for Orengo de Lamazière, is the glimmer of hope in the disaster, especially if it ultimately leads to a mind shift.

There have been reports that those selling rhino horn in China and Laos are now advertising medicines containing it as a cure for Covid-19

“If the Chinese completely change their attitude towards the consumption and trade of animals and animal parts, that is the biggest victory. It’s what we have been trying to do for years — to stop the trafficking.”

Motswari co-owner and Rhino Disharmony co-founder Marion Geiger-Orengo agrees: “If the demand stops then the killing stops, so this is what I’m hoping the ripple effect will be.”

The problematic loophole for the rhino, however, is that the ban excludes the use of animal parts for “medicinal purposes” — the supposed purpose for which rhino horn is sold.

Even more worrying, the International Rhino Foundation says it has received reports that those selling rhino horn in China and Laos are now advertising medicines containing rhino horn as a cure for Covid-19.


It’s well known that SA, home to 80% of the world’s rhinos, has been hardest hit by rhino poaching, with more than 1,000 killed each year between 2013 and 2017.

Anti-poaching units in our national parks and private reserves have been fighting hard to stem the tide. But with those places now shuttered, the tourists gone and the lodges surviving on skeleton staff, what has the impact been?

Since the lockdown began on March 27, there has been a decrease in the number of rhinos and elephants poached. Albi Modise, Communications Director at the Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries

Albi Modise, communications director at the department of environment, forestry & fisheries, says law-enforcement officials remain on duty in the national parks. In fact, since the lockdown began on March 27, Modise says there has been a decrease in the number of rhinos and elephants poached, as well as a decline in marine poaching.

This, he says, is likely due to low demand for the products and the fact that “law enforcement has been strengthened in ports of entries”.

At Motswari, which shares unfenced boundaries with the Kruger National Park, Orengo de Lamazière says “incidents of incursion” initially increased.

“Criminals must have seen the absence of people as their chance to poach and also to attempt to rob the lodges.”

But discussions with the national park and private anti-poaching units have led to skeleton staff at the lodges in the Timbavati and Umbabat private reserves also participating in patrols, day and night, just to have “feet on the ground and wheels on the sand roads”.

Incursions have since decreased, which has also been the experience at Tintswalo Safari in the Manyeleti Nature Reserve, also adjacent to the Kruger.

General manager Alistair Leuner, who is spending lockdown at the lodge, says this is “most probably due to the presence of police and the army in the surrounding communities”.

Many of those virtual safaris to which we’ve pointed you in recent issues — including Motswari’s Instagram and Tintswalo’s website — are really thanks to security patrols — the real reason those rangers are out there.


The fear, of course, was that poachers would be emboldened by the absence of people in the parks. This was the situation painted last month by the New York Times, which quoted Nico Jacobs of Rhino 911, a nonprofit that evacuates injured rhinos by helicopter, as saying “at least nine rhinos” had been poached in the North West alone since the lockdown began.

In fact, Jacobs says the reporter misunderstood him on the dates, and that, though the first week of the lockdown was extremely busy — “and so was the week before, nothing abnormal” — things quietened down after that.

Jacobs attributes this to the stay-at-home order, to roadblocks, and to the closure of national borders, which all hamper poachers’ ability to get the horns out.

“It’s been proven that poached horns get to China within the first week,” he says.

The actual number of rhinos lost in the province during the lockdown so far is “three or four”. Jacobs is emphatic, however, that this is still “totally unacceptable”.

Nico Jacobs of Rhino 911 with four-month-old Jessie, evacuated on April 30 after her mother was poached in the North West.
Image: Nico Jacobs

“People must realise that we are sitting with a huge problem in SA, which has not been resolved. Is it a little bit better? Yes. But we are still far from acceptable norms, where we can say we’ve got numbers — not stable, but increasing numbers — with mothers raising their calves and the calves getting to adulthood.”

He emphasises, too, how hard the people in the parks are working — patrolling at all hours and doing their absolute best to protect the animals with very limited resources.

Botswana, meanwhile, has lost six rhinos since March 27, a situation so dire that National Geographic reports the government is now evacuating black rhinos from the Okavango Delta to save them.


The more complicated issue for rhinos — and wildlife in general — relates to funding. Tourism levies, now totally dried up, are funnelled into conservation and protection measures, and also provide a sustainable living for neighbouring communities.

The shutdown in tourism is a conservation disaster from that perspective, something Geiger-Orengo calls “a full-circle damaging effect”, with livelihoods jeopardised and protection money halted.

Gary Harwood, from communications agency HKLM, which represents eco-tourism brands across Africa, recently wrote an opinion piece on the impact of Covid-19. He says the shut-down of global travel will likely lead to a “slowdown of poaching of endangered species to supply the once-thriving eastern markets” but cautions that if this tempts reserves to “pull back on anti-poaching initiatives in order to save money”, this could exacerbate bush-meat poaching, where local communities are desperate to put food on the table.

It’s estimated that in the North West meat poaching has risen 200%-300% since the lockdown began. Nico Jacobs Rhino 911.

This seems to already be playing out in the North West, where Jacobs estimates meat poaching has risen 200%-300% since the lockdown began. That situation undoes years of hard work in terms of buy-in from local communities.

As Jacobs says with regard to saving the rhino, “We need to get communities involved to protect these animals for future generations because that’s where their money lies.”

It stands to reason that if the money is gone, so is the incentive to conserve.


Ultimately then, the outlook is worrying. And with tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane having said last week that even domestic tourism will likely only re-start in December, that’s a bleak picture for the people, landscapes and animals whose survival depends on the sector.

Many in the tourism industry, of course, pray that Kubayi-Ngubane is wrong. In the meantime, rescuers such as Jacobs “are still flying and patrolling and doing what we can”, while the likes of Motswari and Tintswalo are poised to resume welcoming visitors — and bring back their staff — just as soon as they can.

Orengo de Lamazière insists there is hope, and that eco-tourism will be key to SA’s post-corona recovery because our natural assets are so incomparable. “We will always have people, everywhere in the world, who will want to come to see the wildlife,” he says.

Harwood, meanwhile, adds: “Whilst you may have experienced the disappointment of having to cancel or postpone your own getaway, consider making a donation to ensure the people, the animals and the wilderness within your planned destination also survive during the trying times ahead.

“Then, once we are able to start travelling again, please also consider returning to Africa’s incredible destinations. Simply by being there, you will be contributing towards conservation.”


The most recent rescue for Rhino 911 involved a female thought to be about four months old. She was evacuated on April 30 after her mother was killed by poachers. She is now at the Rhino Orphanage, a registered nonprofit company based in Limpopo, where she has been named Jessie.

Founded by Arrie van Deventer in 2012, the orphanage is dedicated to the care of orphaned and injured baby rhinos, with the goal of ultimately releasing them back into the wild.

After Jessie spent her first night at the orphanage blindfolded and pacing, her caretakers posted on Facebook the following morning: “It is clear that the little girl has been through tremendous trauma the past few days, just looking at her behaviour. She is scared and confused but wants comfort.”

A few days later, they introduced her to another newly orphaned rhino, Amelia, who was rescued by Rhino 911 on March 25.

Head caretaker Yolande van der Merwe explained: “It is always better for rhinos (and any wild animal really) to have an animal companion. For rhinos, it makes them less dependent on human affection, so we always try and pair them up. It makes their rehabilitation so much more successful and easier.”

This week, Van der Merwe said they were “bonding very well, snuggling up close together. In a week or two they will be inseparable.”

You can see a video of Jessie’s rescue – shot on Jacob’s GoPro — on Facebook and follow her and Amelia’s progress on Facebook/TheRhinoOrphanage.


Visit Rhino 911’s website to donate, as well as to see a breakdown of what the funds are for, from helicopter fuel to “baby formula”. Shockingly, it costs R80,000 to wean a baby rhino.

You can also “adopt” a baby or donate once-off to the Rhino Orphanage. See


South Africans volunteer to keep rhino orphanage going during lockdown

By Rescue and rehab, Volunteering No Comments
Channel News Asia | April 21, 2020

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LIMPOPO, SOUTH AFRICA: Looking after an orphaned baby rhino is hard work: you feed them bottled milk at all hours, comfort them through constant fear and bereavement and endure long nights of screaming for the absent mother they witnessed being shot dead by poachers.

“The older calves take it really hard. They’ll call for their mothers for up to two weeks,” said Yolande van der Merwe, 38, who helped set up the world’s first such orphanage in South Africa’s Limpopo province almost a decade ago.

“They start bawling and that hits you right in the heart.”

Original photo as published by Channel News Asia. Orphaned rhinos Kolisi and Amelia, seven and four months respectively are seen amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a sanctuary for rhinos orphaned by poaching, in Mookgopong, Limpopo province, South Africa April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

To help manage the workload – “we can easily pull a 72 hour shift with two to three hours sleep”, van der Merwe said – the orphanage has depended on volunteers to fly in from abroad on three-month rotations at the site set among thick bush.

So when coronavirus panic struck and the latest three foreign volunteers’ visas were revoked, they were in a bind.

“I was quite worried that we were not going to cope,” she said, after Kolisi and Amelia, seven and four months, respectively, slurped noisily from 2-litre bottles of milk formula she was feeding them.

Manager and founder Arrie van Deventer, a 66-year-old retired teacher, got on the phone and started making frantic pleas on social media for South Africans to help out.

“We were swamped,” he said. He picked two volunteers from the several hundred offers. They are now staying put with the four permanent staff since last month’s nationwide lockdown imposed by President Cyril Ramphosa.

South African Deidre Rosenbahn, 37, had been a restaurant chef in Britain for 14 years and then travelled in Australia, but yearned to return home.

“I came back to the coronavirus. It was hard to find a job, so when this came up I put my hand up,” she said, as she fed their youngest new arrival, Mapimpi, from a bottle.

Poachers killed his mother when he was seven days old. He was dehydrated and withered – they found him trying to eat sand. Now he seems well-fed, relaxed and playful. At the age of five, the rhinos in the orphanage are released back into the wild.

“We have dozens of rhinos that come through here, and 95 per cent of them are because of the poaching pandemic,” Deventer said. The precise number, like the sanctuary’s location, are closely guarded secrets in order to protect them from poachers.

The game reserve adjacent to the orphanage has been attacked, unsuccessfully, twice.

Africa’s rhino population has been decimated over the decades to feed demand for rhino horn, which, despite being made of the same stuff as hair and fingernails, is prized in East Asia as a supposed medicine and as jewellery.



Baby rhino rescued in Assam’s Kaziranga, massive hunt on to reunite calf with mother (India)

By Conservation, Rescue and rehab No Comments
Kaushik Deka, India Today | April 21, 2020

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A massive search is on in the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) to trace the mother of a one-month-old rhino male calf, who was rescued by forest guards on Sunday.

The calf was spotted by villagers at Deopani area, near the National Highway 37 outside the boundary of the Bagori range of the national park around noon on April 19, following which they alerted forest guards.

As the mother has still not been traced, the calf has now been kept at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), run by the Wildlife Trust of India. The centre is located near the national park.

Original photo as published by India Today. The rhino calf spotted by villagers outside the boundary of the Bagori range of the Kaziranga National Park on April 19. (Photo:Twitter/@kaziranga_)

Every year, the CWRC handles several baby rhinos and elephants rescued during annual floods that submerge the national park. “It’s a very rare phenomenon for rhino. The mother generally doesn’t leave her calf unattended because rhino mothers are very protective. Park guards carried out a massive search for 48 hours. It’s unusual that the mother has not come looking for the calf,” says Rathin Barman, Joint Director, Wildlife Trust of India.

Some wildlife experts, however, say mothers may move away from the baby to protect it from injuries when an adult male in heat approaches her.

Spread across 430 square kilometres, the national park in Kaziranga, is the biggest habitat of one-horned rhinos in the world. It is home to more than 2,400 rhinos.

The one-horned rhino is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The KNP often makes headlines for regular instances of poaching. The KNP authorities have, however, ruled out the possibility that the mother could have been killed by poachers. “The mother stays near the calf. So we would have found the carcass if she had been killed,” a park official said.

In January, P Sivakumar, the director of Assam’s Kaziranga National Park claimed that the number of rhinos poached in the park in 2019 was the lowest in 10 years. Three rhinos were killed under the park limits in 2019, a sharp decline from 12 in 2016.

Coronavirus shutdown gives Nepal’s nature a respite

By Conservation, Land conservation, Reintroducation, Rescue and rehab No Comments
The Nepali Times| March 24, 2020

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While humans all over the planet are being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has given nature everywhere a respite.

Carbon emissions have dipped, there is almost no carbon monoxide in the air over large parts of India and China because vehicles are off the roads, NOx and sulphur dioxide concentrations in the air have dropped. The concentration of particulate matter like soot given off by industries and diesel trucks have also decreased, improving air quality over Asia’s most-polluted cities.

Here in Nepal, Mt Everest and Himalayan peaks have got a much-needed respite after the government cancelled all expeditions and treks from the mountains for the spring climbing season. There has been an international uproar last year after photos of a traffic jam on the summit ridge of Mt Everest went viral. Garbage and corpses on the mountain have gotten a lot of media attention.

Original image from The Nepali Times: Chitlang, Makwanpur. Photo: KUNDA DIXIT

The sunny spring sky in Kathmandu was brilliantly clear on Tuesday, the first day of a week-long nationwide lockdown. With no traffic, and flights all grounded, there is no noise pollution in the street or the sky.

But the happiest must be wild animals in Nepal’s national parks, including those popular with tourists like Chitwan, Bardia, Langtang and Shivapuri-Nagarjun, where visitors have not been allowed since Sunday.

After the government closed schools and offices last week, Kathmandu’s residents had started arriving at Shivapuri and Chitwan by the busloads for picnics during weekend, prompting park officials to close entry on Monday.

“We had to close the parks because there was an increase in visitor numbers, but with the announcement of the nationwide lockdown from Tuesday, visitors will not be coming anyway,” said chief of Bardia National park Ananath Baral.

On Sunday, there were more than 400 visitors — about four times the daily average — at Shivapuri-Nagarjun, the national park on Kathmandu Valley’s northern and western rim.

Conservationists say the drop in human activity will be a relief to the park’s wildlife, since any extra noise can disturb their habitat and movement. Naturalist Mukesh Chalise recalls how there was an increase in wildlife in Langtang National Park after trekkers stopped coming due to the 2015 earthquake.

“It used to be difficult to see resident fauna and birds, now there are herds and flocks of them out in the open in Langtang,” Chalise says.

Due to its terrain and topographic range, Nepal has some of the richest biodiversity in a country with such a small area. There are 876 species of birds, 185 species of mammals and 651 species of butterflies in Nepal, some of them are only found here and nowhere else. National parks and protected areas cover 27% of Nepal’s area.

There has been a big increase in park visitors in the past few years. Nepal’s national parks and conservation areas registered 510,000 foreign visitors five years ago, and this grew to 701,000 last year.  There is no count of the number of Nepali visitors, and if this is added it would take the numbers to nearly 1.5 million per year.

There has also been little attempt to regulate the entry of sightseeing vehicles into national parks. In Chitwan alone, the national park issued 35 jeep permits every day for jungle safari into the core area. Bardia issued 22 jeep permits per day, with each vehicle carrying 10-14 visitors. Besides this, both Chitwan and Bardia also issue dozens of elephant safari permits.

All this has now come to a halt, and has eliminated human disturbance. Chalise says this will allow wild animals and birds to be left alone for a while which will be good for nature to rebound.

“We had already started seeing rhinos interacting more and more with humans, and acting tame. It is very dangerous for the rhino to lose its fear of humans because this may expose them to poachers,” adds Chalise, who says there should be a permanent ban on human entry into national parks. Tourists should be allowed only into the buffer zone.

Sindhu Dhungana at the Ministry of Forests and Environment, however, says that if local people do not see any advantage of eco-tourism they may not help in conservation, and visitors should be allowed but in a regulated numbers.

“The main criteria should be how much human activity is disturbing wildlife, and if it is serious numbers should be regulated,” Dhungana explains.

Lessening human entry into national parks will also prevent the spread of human diseases like tuberculosis to rhinos and elephants, and also stop viruses from wild animals infecting humans.

Chalise also warns that the nationals parks should be vigilant about increased activity of poachers taking advantage of the national shutdown to hunt wild animals either for meat or tusks, horns and pelts.

New rhino sanctuary opened in Way Kambas National Park (Indonesia)

By Conservation, Rescue and rehab No Comments
Ludhy Cahyana, Tempo.Co | October 31, 2019

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JAKARTA: Directorate General of Natural Resource and Ecosystem Conservation (KSDAE) of Environment and Forestry Ministry was set to open the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary II at Way Kambas National Park, East Lampung, in commemoration of World’s Rhino Day.

The KSDAE Director-General Wiratno said the new sanctuary was the expansion of the first one, which was built in 1996. For the inauguration, his side invited Lampung Governor Arinal Djunaidi.

Original photo as published by Tempo.

“Lampung Governor appreciates and supports this program. He also supports programs of KSDAE on efforts to integrate forestry conservation programs, develop tourism and region,” said Wiratno.

He further explained that the sanctuary was aimed at enhancing the population of Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), which considered an endangered animal.

The existence of Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary II, Wiratno added, would add to the list of natural tourist attractions and conservations in Lampung among Bukit Barisan National Park, Way Kambas National Park, Mount Anak Krakatau, and Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary I.

Stray rhinos back in park (Zambia)

By Relocation, Rescue and rehab No Comments
Tumfweko | October 22, 2019

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The Zambian Department of National Parks and Wildlife has secured two white rhinos that had strayed out of Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park in Livingstone and went as far as Kazungula district. The two female rhinos aged seven and five are Lubinda and Lucy respectively.

Ministry of Tourism and Arts Public Relations Officer, Sakabilo Kalembwe says the department made several attempts to herd them back to the park but they continued to drift further away from the park into apparent hot poaching spots in Katombora and Kazungula.

Original photo as published by Tumfweko.

Mr. Kalembwe says it was at this moment when the scale of threats of poaching and safety of the animals became more apparent that the department and other well-wishers put resources together to have the elusive rhinos safely returned to the park.

He told ZNBC News in a statement that the Wildlife Veterinary Unit of the Department was called in from Chilanga to quickly capture the rhinos and translocate them back to the park.

Mr. Kalembwe said the Unit expertly immobilized the rhinos, loaded them on a truck and transported them back into the park where they were released. He said Lubinda and Lucy have since joined the other rhinos in the park.

The Mosi Oa Tunya National Park has a total of 10 white rhinos. Mr. Kalembwe further said it is not clear why the rhinos left the park but the diminished natural food resources due to drought or climate change in the park cannot be ruled out despite the provision of supplementary food like hay and Lucerne.

At India’s Assam Zoo, decades of experience lead to rhino-breeding success

By Conservation, Rescue and rehab No Comments
Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya, Mongabay | October 16, 2019

See link for photos & 3-minute video

GUWAHATI, INDIA: One August afternoon in 1991, rangers at India’s Kaziranga National Park rescued a startled rhino calf. The young female, believed to be just a few months old, had just survived a tiger attack and was separated from her mother in the melee.

It was a tough start in life for the little calf, named Baghekhaiti by her rescuers, the local Assamese for “eaten or bitten by a tiger.” But she survived her injuries, and would go on to give birth to the first greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) calf born in the Indian state of Assam as part of an ambitious captive-breeding programme launched by India’s Central Zoo Authority (CZA) in 2011.

“Baghekhaiti, whose right leg still bears the scar of that tiger attack, was brought to the Assam State Zoo on 10 August, 1991,” says Govinda Sharma, a keeper at the Guwahati-based zoo and botanical garden, who has been looking after the rhino since 1993. “Now she’s around 28. Since her arrival at the zoo she’s delivered two calves … So, she’s very special.”

According to the CZA, the program’s objective is to build a stock of healthy captive rhinos to serve as insurance for the future, should the species face extinction in the wild again. Two zoos have been designated as part of the program: the Assam State Zoo, and Bihar state’s Patna Zoo, where six calves have been born since 2011.

The greater one-horned rhino has made a spectacular comeback once before, thanks to global conservation efforts in Kaziranga and in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, which together harbor about 85 percent of the species’ global population of around 3,500 individuals. But the IUCN still considers the species vulnerable, primarily due to the constant threat of poaching — a threat that underscores the importance of maintaining a genetically viable captive population.

Original photo as published by Mongabay: A greater one-horned rhino at the Assam State Zoo. (Manon Verchot/Mongabay)

A Long History of Breeding Rhinos

Assam state, where Kaziranga National Park is located, is home to some 2,500 greater one-horned rhinos, and the state zoo has held rhinos since its establishment in 1957.

The first successful birth of a greater one-horned rhinoceros in an Indian zoo dates back to April 7, 1960, when Geeta, a female from Kaziranga taken into captivity earlier that year, gave birth to Mohan Jr. The second zoo-born calf was delivered in 1963.

But these rhinos were born from mothers already impregnated in the wild.

The first real breakthrough came in July 1963, when a female calf was born as a result of mating between two wild-caught rhinos at the zoo premises. (This was just six years after Switzerland’s Basel Zoo recorded the first ever birth of a captive-bred greater one-horned rhino in a modern zoo.)

Between 1957 and the launch of the captive birth initiative in 2011, India’s National Studbook of One Horned Rhinoceros records 13 births (including two stillbirths) at Assam State Zoo. While some of these animals still live at the zoo, others have been transferred to zoos around the world. And one female, born in 1978 and known as Geeta or Laxmi, made history in 1987 by becoming Assam’s first zoo-born rhino to give birth.

In 1979, the Assam State Zoo sent two rhinos, known as Kancha and Kanchi, to the Patna Zoo, the first rhinos to be hosted at that facility. The Patna Zoo, in turn, marked its first captive birth in 1988, with a calf born to Kanchi and a wild-caught male named Raju.

Despite this track record, India, the primary home range of the greater one-horned rhinoceros, lacked concerted efforts to develop a sustainable captive-breeding program for the species. That changed in December 2011, when the CZA announced the launch of a captive-breeding program for 73 species, the rhino among them. The CZA named Assam State Zoo to lead the rhino breeding program, with Patna Zoo as a coordinating party.

A National, Coordinated Captive-Breeding Program

While Assam State Zoo has managed to breed rhinos in captivity since the 1960s, India’s existing ex-situ breeding efforts and facilities were deemed insufficient to maintain a viable pool of captive rhinos, triggering the formal launch of the special captive-breeding program, according to Bibhab Talukdar, an Assam-based Asian rhino expert.

With the onset of the program, the captive-breeding efforts have become much more streamlined, says Tejas Mariswamy, the director of Assam State Zoo. “We now have off-display enclosures to keep the rhinos free of stress from the contact with visitors, and more staffs attending to them. The record keeping and maintenance have improved. We are better equipped now,” he says.

There are eight rhinos under this program at the zoo. Of these, two females and one male are at prime reproductive age, while the rest are still juveniles being kept for future use in the program.

A Success and a Setback

The CZA initiative bore fruit within two years of its launch, rapid progress for a species whose pregnancies last about a year and a half. On May 11, 2013, a female calf named Dolly was born at the Patna Zoo. Then, on Sept. 1, 2013, Baghekhaiti gave birth to a male calf named Sanatan in Assam. The calf was Baghekhaiti’s second offspring, and like its older sibling it was fathered by a male named Bishnu, the first zoo-born male rhino to produce offspring in a zoo in India.

“Baghekhaiti appeared to be restless since morning on that day,” Sharma recalls of the day Baghekhaiti gave birth to Sanatan. “She didn’t eat the stack of hay and grass I’d given to her that she usually loves to munch on. We knew the day was coming, but didn’t expect that it would be that very day. In the evening at 6:43 she gave birth to a male calf … It was an overwhelming moment for us.”

“The birth of Sanatan effectively kicked off the captive breeding program,” Chandan Bora, then the divisional forest officer at Assam State Zoo, tells Mongabay. “That we were able to breed the first calf within less than two years of the launch of the programme was really inspiring.”

Sanatan is now 6 years old and thriving.

The zoo is now expecting the birth of its second calf under the program — and a first grandchild for Baghekhaiti. Her first calf, Pori, who was born in 2002, was observed last year mating with a wild-born male. “Now she is pregnant and expected to deliver in May next year,” Mariswamy says of Pori.

Patna, meanwhile, has seen the delivery of six calves: three in 2013 (including one that died shortly before turning two), one in 2015 and two in 2017.

In early 2018, however, the captive breeding program suffered a setback when a female calf at the Assam State Zoo sustained injuries from a male that later led to her death. Shanti, a rather small one-and-half-year-old female, shared an enclosure with two other rhinos: another young female named Bagori, and Gaonburha, a 2-year-old male. All of them were brought to the zoo in September 2017 from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), based outside Kaziranga National Park.

“On 12 January, 2018, Gaonburha forcibly tried to mount Shanti and in the process injured her backbone and she got several bruises. We saw her grovelling in pain. She was treated with pain-killers and other drugs. Unfortunately she did not recover,” says zoo director Mariswamy, adding that Gaonburha and Bagori were separated immediately after the incident.

While local media reported the incident to be the result of a mating attempt, Arindam Kishore Pachoni, a veterinarian at the zoo, insists that it was an act of non-breeding playful behavior and not a mating attempt. “Mating of rhinos is often a violent and raucous affair. Male rhinos do behave violently with females during mating in the wild. But this wasn’t a case of mating aggression,” he says.

He adds that they’ve been far more careful about putting rhinos together after this incident.

The Infant Mortality Puzzle

Global efforts at ex-situ breeding of the greater one-horned rhinoceros have also faced another problem: infant mortality.

Despite being shielded from dangers like floods or the tiger attack suffered by Baghekhaiti, captive-born one-horned rhinos have a considerably higher infant mortality rate than their kin in the wild, research shows. While a study reported an infant mortality rate of 11.1 percent for the wild rhino population in Chitwan, Nepal, the infant mortality rate in the captive one-horned rhino population has been recorded to be a steep 20 percent. Two of the 14 calves born at the Assam zoo were stillborn, a mortality rate of around 14 percent.

In a paper published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, conservation biologists Samuel Zschokke and Bruno Baur offer three possible explanations. First, they say the infant mortality rate in the wild could be underestimated; second, the zoo environment is stressful for both laboring mothers and newborn calves; third, the wild population in Chitwan National Park is likely genetically distinct from the captive rhinos in zoos across the world, most of which are descended from the Kaziranga population.

Intriguingly, Zschokke and Baur found that the infant mortality rate was lower in inbred Indian rhino calves than in non-inbred ones. They observed that inbreeding depression, which has been observed to increase juvenile mortality rates in several other captive mammal populations, does not seem to be a particular concern for greater one-horned rhinos.

Zschokke and Baur also observed that inbreeding in Indian rhinoceros doesn’t appear to influence either gestation period or birth mass, suggesting that “inbreeding avoidance in Indian rhinoceros may not be as important as it is in other species.”

‘Knowing Your Animals is the Key to Success’

The core strength of the rhino captive-breeding program at Assam State Zoo, according to Mariswamy, is the strong bond that the keepers share with the rhinos. This, he says, evolves from “deep knowledge derived from keen and consistent observation of the animals as well as long-term association with them.”

The three keepers currently looking after the rhinos at the captive-breeding centre — Govinda Sharma, Anandi Rabha and Umesh Rajbongshi — each have more than two decades of experience in caring for the animals.

“I’ve been looking after rhinos since 1993. Building on my daily lived experience with them for so long, I know how they behave just the way I know how my pet does. I give them care accordingly, drawing on my practical knowledge,” Sharma says.

Mariswamy says while the zoo doesn’t have a formalized training program for its rhino keepers, the institution benefits from its experience of hosting rhinos for more than half a century. “What helps us is the intergenerational knowledge transfer about animal husbandry. The new keepers learn the tricks of the trade working with the seasoned hands. That’s how the knowledge is passed on. Moreover, our vets and biologists regularly update the keepers on the recent scientific knowledge about the animals.”

Though researchers at zoos elsewhere in the world have been experimenting with assisted reproductive technology (ART) in rhino breeding, Assam State Zoo hasn’t yet considered it and instead prefers natural breeding.

“In natural breeding the first critical step is choosing a correct pair,” says senior zoo veterinarian Bijoy Gogoi. “While carrying out the pairings we assess the mating suitability of the animals that takes into consideration various factors such as genetic diversity and kinship difference between the animals to be paired so that inbreeding could be avoided.

“So knowing your animals is, to a large extent, the key to success,” he adds.

“This is why we focus on developing a strong bond between the keepers and the rhinos,” Mariswamy says. “Isn’t it the best possible way to learn about the animals?”

Watch: Orphaned rhino calf takes his first bottle (South Africa)

By Rescue and rehab No Comments
Lowvelder | October 14, 2019

Watch the video here

Original photo as published by The Lowvelder.

This rhino calf was orphaned after his mother was shot during a poaching incident.

The young calf who was flown to Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary late Friday afternoon spent that first 14 hours receiving critical care.

He was very weak and extremely dehydrated. In desperate need of fluids and rest, he received intravenous fluids overnight while he slept.

Although still very weak, he woke early Saturday morning and began to gently suckle for the first time.

Watch the video here