30 litres of milk a day, a sheep as companion and humans as caretakers
An orphaned rhinoceros calf whose mother died of natural causes, is helping conservationists to understand the complexities of rearing infant rhinos, in the process establishing a crucial body of knowledge for the survival of rhinos as well as other critically endangered species.
Trusty, who recently turned eight months old, was rescued some six months ago by an anti-poaching unit when they stumbled upon the abandoned calf and its dead mother. The calf has been taken care of by a small team of dedicated caretakers to ensure its survival, and eventually in about a year from now, to habituate it for an independent life in the wild.
“When you rescue an animal, it provides a unique opportunity to learn about its needs and behaviour from a very close range and this provides insight in the way a species can be conserved in the wild,” said Juliette Erdtsieck of the Rhino Momma Project, who is part of the small team hand-raising Trusty.
Trusty was rescued earlier this year after he was spotted near his dead mother. He was severely dehydrated and traumatised, weighing a mere 170 kilogram. He was placed on a drip for twelve hours to rehydrate him and bottle-fed every two hours.
“The biggest lesson we have learned from saving this orphan is that humans can play a large role in saving a species when the correct knowledge is present. It is therefore so important that research about the natural behaviour and ecology of a species is done, so we can positively contribute to the conservation of this species,” she said.
“Baby rhinos require milk for the first 16 to 18 months of their life. Just the stress and anxiety of being alone would already cause death. Fortunately, our little man wasn’t on his own for too long thanks to our ever-present and alert anti-poaching unit,” she added, explaining the circumstances how Trusty ended up in human custody.
Trusty’s closest companion is a sheep but to ensure the success of his rewilding, his caretakers provide an environment as close to nature as possible, taking care to limit his exposure to humans to prevent a strong human imprint.
“It is most important that human interaction with this calf is limited to the minimum which is also the reason why a sheep was chosen as a companion. This way the orphan learns to bond with another animal, which will make it easier to introduce him to a fellow rhino later on,” Erdtsieck said.
Rearing a rhino orphan is not easy or cheap task. It would not have been possible without corporate sponsors. Erdtsieck said they are infinitely grateful to Namibia Dairies who is sponsoring the milk formula. At eight and a half months old, Trusty drinks about 30 litres of milk a day.
Another key sponsor is ISAP who runs a very successful anti-poaching unit in turn sponsored by the Go Green Fund of Nedbank Namibia.