A rhino's gestation period is about 15-16 months long. Newborn rhinos can weigh between 60 and 120 pounds. (Photo: Nigel Treblin/Getty)
It's been a horribly violent start to 2012 for South Africa's rhinoceros population. Two weeks ago, rangers discovered eight dead rhino in the park in just one day. Last year alone, 448 rhino's lost their lives in South Africa, with about half of the slayings occurring in Kruger.
One of the tragic casualties of the poaching epidemic are rhino calves. Many of the babies sustain injuries from the ordeals that kill their mothers. Others are born prematurely when the adult females are shot. Since rhino calves are not weaned until they are three years old, most of the orphans still need to nurse.
Now, The Endangered Wildlife Trust and rhino expert Karen Trendler have developed the Rhino Orphan Response Project to take in the calves and rehabilitate them until they are ready to be released into the wild.
Based in Roodepoort, Gauteng South Africa,“[t]he project aims to improve the response to these situations—to get to the scene as soon as possible and provide the best possible treatment needed,” Trendler said. “We want to get them back into the wild, as this is the best thing for rhino conservation. They must breed.”
The project consists of veterinarians, animal welfare and conservation staffers, rhino and anti-poaching experts. The rescuers rush to the scene where rhinos are poached. The team might treat the surviving calves for gunshot wounds or facial injuries where their horns have been removed.
Affiliated organizations must have expertise in rehabilitation. If the calves are humanized, they won’t be fit to be released back into the wild and will have to live their lives in sanctuaries.
Once properly rehabbed, the rhinos are released—but they need to be monitored closely.
“They might need more support, or they might not get along with the other rhinos in the area,” Trendler said. “We also have to make sure that the area they are released into has massive security to protect them from further poaching.”