8 min read

Newborn Rhino Decides To Adopt The Men Who Saved Her Life

“The moment she was free, despite still being caked in mud, she huffed and puffed and began spinning in circles playfully following the men” 😍

The newborn rhino was in trouble. She’d fallen into a boggy hole, and she was too tiny and too weak to get herself out.

The rhino’s mother, Makosi, tried to help, but only made things worse. As she tried to dig her baby out, she churned up mud, which made the baby sink deeper.

Baby rhino walking near creek
Maarifa after she was rescued from the boggy hole | DSWT

But help wasn’t far away. Rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service discovered the mom and calf while doing a routine patrol of the Meru National Park Rhino Sanctuary. After assessing the situation, the rangers realized they needed to intervene to save the baby’s life. If they didn’t, the baby would probably die in the mud.

“After laying down their weapons, removing their boots and rolling up their trousers, the rangers clambered into the swamp area to extract the baby,” Amie Alden, communication and media officer for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), told The Dodo. “Being so tiny, they were able to carry Maarifa [the baby] in their arms to safety.”

Ranger walking with baby rhino
DSWT

The rangers hoped Makosi and her baby would wander away together — but unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Makosi was probably stressed and confused by the incident, and strayed far from the rescue scene, joining a male and female rhino and leaving her baby behind.

But the rangers didn’t give up — they hid in the bush, hoping this would encourage Makosi to come back. Meanwhile, the baby rhino, now named Maarifa, just wanted to play.

“She was a tiny little thing who the rangers described as ‘jovial’ from the outset,” DSWT wrote in a blog post. “The moment she was free, despite still being caked in mud, she huffed and puffed and began spinning in circles playfully following the men and trotting behind them. This now presented a problem for her rescuers, as they tried to hide so that the mother would come back to her calf.”

Baby rhino running toward keeper
DSWT

The rangers spent hours trying to reunite Makosi and Maarifa — not only on the day of the rescue, but the next day, too. The newborn cried out for her mom, but Makosi wandered farther and farther away, and never came back.

Rescuers with baby rhino
DSWT

“For rhinos, scent is one of their primary senses and the infant would not have smelt the same after having been handled by people, which may have led Mum to struggle to recognize Maarifa as her calf,” Alden said. “Additionally, Makosi was likely quite stressed, having found her calf stuck and then been desperately trying to free it — so a combination of an unusual scent and stress could be the reasons that they did not reunite. But we can never know for certain.”

Rescuers ready to lift baby rhino into helicopter
DSWT

With no chance of surviving on her own, Maarifa was taken to DSWT’s elephant orphanage in Nairobi National Park, where she was given a soft bed and milk to drink.

Maarifa quickly bonded with the DSWT caretakers, who took on the responsibility of mothering her.

Keeper with baby rhino
DSWT

“Maarifa has taken to her new carers really well and loves to spend her time charging about, playing games of chase,” Alden said. “She is cared for by a rotating group of keepers — this is deliberately to prevent her from becoming too attached to any one individual should … [they] be away from her for a period of time.”

Maarifa is still only a few days old, so it’s hard to know how she’ll fare in the weeks and months to come — but the DSWT team is optimistic about her survival.

Keepers with baby rhino
DSWT

“In offering her a second chance at life, we are committed to doing all we can to see her through to adulthood … [although] raising and reintegrating orphaned rhinos is a difficult process,” Alden said. “That said, she has shown remarkable resilience, taking to her bottle, new home and new human-family extremely well — all optimistic signs and indicating she has a strong will to live.”

The DSWT team will continue to look after Maarifa for the next eight years, although they’ll start allowing her to explore the world on her own in a few years.

Baby rhino drinking milk from bottle
DSWT

“Once Maarifa reaches 3 or 4 years old, her stockade doors can be left open at night so that the she can venture out and make physical contact with the local wild rhinos as and when she wishes, with the ability to return ‘home’ when she wants,” Alden said. “This slow and steady rehabilitation and reintegration process, underpinned by routine and familiarity, has been successfully repeated for other orphaned rhinos, including Solio, who is currently living wild in Nairobi National Park but who occasionally returns to say ‘hello’ to her former carers.”

Baby rhino with blanket on her back
DSWT

“Just as with any orphaned elephant we rescue, it is our aim to reintegrate Maarifa back into the wild in a protected area when grown,” Alden added.

To help Maarifa grow up to be a strong wild rhino, you can make a donation to DSWT.