Meet the Orphans – Part 1
The Lowveld Rhino Trust is currently raising five black rhino orphans, all of whom lost their mothers to poachers and were too young to survive on their own. Two calves – Carla and Lisa Marie – are almost old enough to survive on their own in the wild and will be released soon. The three youngsters – Blondie, Sassy, and Millie – will require significantly more time under human care before they can be released. Each orphan has a unique story.
Blondie, a young male rhino, was born in April 2008. He is the oldest and largest of the three youngsters, and is the only small calf with ear notches (these notches are made to identify and monitor individual rhinos). Blondie was orphaned on August 3rd, 2008, in the Midlands Conservancy, when his mother Tapiwa was shot by poachers.
Early in the evening of August 3rd, the Lowveld Rhino Trust received a message that a female rhino had been shot by poachers, leaving behind a four-month-old orphaned calf requiring capture and care. The capture team hurriedly made arrangements and arrived on site early the next morning, August 4th, where they found the young calf huddling beside his dead mother. The team darted the calf and put him in a modified game capture crate for transport. The team arrived with the young rhino at the orphan calf pens at around 1:00 am on August 6th – keeper Blondie Leathem’s 50th birthday. The calf was named Blondie, in honor of the man who would become his “foster father.”
Once the calf was offloaded, his human keepers tried to get him to take a bottle of milk – often a difficult process for young rhinos only used to nursing from their mothers. To stimulate the suckling reflex, veterinarian Dr. Chris Foggin massaged the calf’s tongue while inserting the milk bottle. At the end of a very long and tiring day, Chris did not notice that his thumb had slipped sideways between the calf’s teeth. The resulting sound was exactly like what you hear when an adult rhino bites through a branch. Fortunately Chris’s finger remained intact, though very misshapen. After this initial mishap, Blondie has learned to bottle feed successfully, and is now healthy and thriving, and enjoying the company of his fellow orphans, Millie and Sassy.
Tune in next week to read more about the other orphans!