Rhino Just another day in Kruger National Park: The epic true story of the orphaned baby rhino saved from poachers, a herd of aggressive elephants and a pride of hungry lions.
Photo Cred: Wikimedia Commons

Just another day in Kruger National Park: The epic true story of the orphaned baby rhino saved from poachers, a herd of aggressive elephants and a pride of hungry lions.


Kruger National Park, South Africa (13 July 2020) – An orphaned rhino calf is recovering in an enclosure at the Care For Wild Rhino Sanctuary in Mpumalanga after an epic rescue mission took place in the southern parts of the Kruger National Park on Sunday 5 July 2020.

The male calf, which is estimated to be between six and eight months old, was spotted by pure chance by a member of JEMU, the Environmental Monitoring Unit of Jock Safari Lodge, who was on his way to the Concession. Owned and managed by the non-profit Caleo Foundation, Jock Safari Lodge was the first private concession within the Kruger National Park. Over the past 20 years, Jock has worked closely with SANParks in support of various conservation initiatives, including the protection of endangered species such as rhinos.

When it was found, the calf was clearly in distress, wandering around on his own just off the main tourist road. Rhino mothers very rarely leave their calves, which indicated that the mother was most likely already dead. The Kruger National Park Regional Ranger was immediately alerted to the baby rhino, who instantly assembled a Reaction Team in a combined effort to save the orphaned calf.

The rhino calf was, however, moving deeper into the bush and fearing that the Reaction Team might not find the calf if visual was lost, the JEMU member started tracking the baby rhino on foot. After about 2km, the calf suddenly came into contact with a herd of about 15 elephants. The elephants were aggressive and repeatedly charged towards the baby rhino with the obvious intent to kill it. Supported by a Kruger Park official that caught up with him, they distracted the herd by shouting and clapping hands to draw attention away from the rhino calf.

Clearly dazed and confused, the baby rhino continued to follow the elephants, with the aggressive matriarch charging continuing, placing the calf in grave danger. After several charges, the calf, fortunately, ran off into another direction, where he was later found standing next to the carcass of his mother. The mother had been killed by poachers, and her horns had been removed. She was left to die, unable to provide for her baby or defend the vulnerable calf.

There was a flurry of activity, not only with the elephants in hot pursuit of the calf but by now there were several lions very close to the carcass, making several advances on the calf. The lions spotted the JEMU member and left the calf to stare down the JEMU member with growls and tail whipping. The team retreated to a large termite mound, where they communicated a new GPS Coordinate to the Reaction Team and kept lock on the baby rhino until the helicopter had visual on the site.

Instinctively, the exhausted baby rhino gave one last chase with the arrival of the chopper, closely followed by an enraged elephant cow. Thanks to his excellent flying skills, the helicopter pilot managed to separate the calf from the herd of elephants to give the Vet the opportunity to dart the baby. After a few minutes, the calf was tranquilised, giving space for the Reaction Team to move in and perform vital lifesaving first-aid on the baby. A drip was inserted to treat its obvious dehydration, and the calf was safely transferred by helicopter to the Care For Wild Rhino Sanctuary, where its founder Petronel Nieuwoudt and her team were on standby to meet the precious new arrival.

The baby rhino was taken into the ICU for monitoring and to receive vital fluids through the line that was administered in the field earlier that day. The calf was assessed for wounds, but apart from lion scratch marks, he seemed to have escaped relatively unscathed. The calf was clearly very traumatised after its ordeal, and the sanctuary team spent the first night in the enclosure with him to monitor his progress.

In a recent update, it was reported that the calf has accepted the bottle of specialised, formulated milk and is drinking about 16 litres per day. He remains in a small enclosure and is still on a drip to monitor his vitals and organs. To recover from severe trauma like this, the first 24 to 72 hours are the most critical, and it is therefore estimated that he should have a good chance of survival.

Having survived all of this, he’s been dubbed Nhlanhla, ‘the lucky one’ in local Shangaan language.

More about Jock Safari Lodge

Jock Safari Lodge is named after the local legend, Jock of the Bushveld, the canine hero of Sir Percy FitzPatrick’s famous story of courage and loyalty that is set during South Africa’s first gold rush era. Steeped in history, Jock Safari Lodge was the first private concession granted within South Africa’s largest national park. The lodge was founded in 1982 by the Niven family, descendants of Sir Percy FitzPatrick, and today, is owned and managed by the non-profit conservation organisation, the Caleo Foundation, sister property to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Little Karoo, which extends across 58, 000 hectares on the R62, three hours’ drive from Cape Town.

Taking guests on a sensory journey that encapsulates history, flora, fauna, conservation, relaxation and fine South African food and wine, Jock Safari Lodge comprises of 12 individual thatched rooms. At the same time, nearby private camp, Fitzpatrick’s at Jock caters for small parties and families with three luxurious suites.

The lodge is situated at the confluence of the Mitomeni (Shangaan for ‘Jackalberry Tree’) and Biyamiti (Shangaan for ‘Place of many Trees’) rivers, in the south-western corner of the Kruger National Park. Here 6,000 hectares of exclusive traversing rights provide excellent Big Five game viewing. At the same time, activities include daily game drives, wilderness walks and visits to rock art sites, bird watching, spa treatments and stargazing, as well as a Kids on Safari programme for children.

More about care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary

The Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary NPC is located in the greater Barberton Nature Reserve, which incorporates Mountainlands Game Reserve, situated in the beautiful heartland of Mpumalanga, South Africa. The Sanctuary was founded by Petronel Nieuwoudt, with the goal of providing care and rehabilitation to a wide range of animals. Due to the drastic increase in the numbers of rhino poaching incidents within South Africa, and an ensuing large number of orphaned rhinos, the need for a specialised sanctuary which would rehabilitate and eventually release back into the wild became necessary.

Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary works directly with local communities in creating sustainable solutions that provide training, educational opportunities and ultimately jobs. This leads to members of the community developing livelihoods and securing promising futures for their communities through conservation.

The long-term sustainability of the CFWRS is ultimately through the creation of jobs and enterprises within the Sanctuary and surrounding communities, ensuring that the communities see a tangible benefit in conserving the Sanctuary and Rhinos.

Sources: Wild Rhino Sanctuary
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