9 min read

We Will Make Sure Blind Rhino Feels Safe And Loved

<p> David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust<span></span> </p>

Today, on World Rhino Day, there are estimated to be 5,000 black rhino left in the world, a tiny number for a prehistoric looking animal that has inhabited the world for millions of years. With rhino horn poaching threatening the species, for many rhinos, the world must seem a very scary place - not least if you are blind, like Maxwell.

Now aged 9-years old, Maxwell is a permanent resident at our Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park because his blindness gives him a severe disadvantage - he can't size up his opponents in fights over territory meaning he is unable to defend himself.

Rescuing Maxwell

Maxwell after his rescue in 2007. Photo: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Maxwell's story began on a February day in 2007 after our elephant carers heard the sounds of his cries in the Nairobi National Park forest. Baby rhinos emit an unusual mix of squeaks and mews when they're in distress; it's a sound you might not expect from such a prehistoric looking pachyderm, but these high pitched squeaks serves to alert their mother that they need help. Running around alone, and seemingly blind, he was monitored for the rest of the day, and after no sign of his mother was found, we stepped in to rescue him to prevent him from being taken by the Park's predators, like lions, during the night.

Aged just 1-year old, but weighing in between 40 and 60 kilograms (approx. 88 to 132 pounds) at birth and standing at 2-feet tall, leading a blind year-old rhino to our stockades, and then hand-raising him, is no small undertaking; it took ten keepers to initially restrain him and bring him to his new home, carrying him on a rescue tarpaulin.

Maxwell is feed freshly cut greens by his carers. Photo: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

In the wild, calves are completely reliant on their mothers for survival until they are around three years old meaning that caring for Maxwell has involved intensive 24/7 care. During his first two years, our keepers took on the job of "mum" and tended to his physical and psychological needs, providing round the clock care and reassurance and physical contact.

It was this team of carers that left their clothing in his stable at night to provide a familiar and comforting scent to stop Maxwell getting lonely and bottle-fed him every four hours throughout the day with specialist milk so he could grow strong and healthy.

Maxwell's blindness

Maxwell shortly after his first operation. Photo: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Initial assessments of Maxwell's eyes showed cataracts and after his rescue, we hoped that some sight could be restored to Maxwell. Sadly, over a series of operations, it became evident that Max was permanently blind with bilateral cataracts, and devastatingly, multiple complications which are likely a degenerating defect from birth.

With the ability of sight crucial to ensuring bull rhinos can weigh up their opponents in physical battles over territory and rank, which can be particularly brutal, we have offered Maxwell permanent and specialist care in at our Nursery in the National Park.

Maxwell takes in the smells of his newly extended stockade. Photo: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Today, he is a fully grown rhino - they can grow to weigh in at a huge 1,500 kilograms (approx. 3,307 pounds) - and as he's grown, his stockade has been extended several times to give him space to move and enjoy.

But though he might look prehistoric, like his species, he is extremely sensitive and affectionate; when he was little, Maxwell loved nothing more than to be rubbed on his head and belly and when we extend his stockade, we move his dung to the new space which helps him cope with the change.

Maxwell covered in earth after a mud bath. Photo: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Even more surprising for such a thick skinned animal, a good skin care regime is crucial to his health. On hot days, mud baths seal in moisture in the skin, protecting him from insects and sunburn.

Though Maxwell can never return to the wild, it's our aim to reintegrate any orphaned wild animal we rescue and care for back into the wild. Solio, a female black rhino who we rescued at just six months old in 2010, has made that transition and is now wild living in Nairobi National Park but, much to the delight of Maxwell, returns to greet her old friend often under the cover of darkness, tackling each other through the gate.

Solio visits her old friend, Maxwell. Photo: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

It's unknown what happened to Maxwell's mother, but current rates of rhino horn poaching mean, sadly, many other rhinos are growing up without their mother by their side. Last year in South Africa alone, 1,215rhinos were killed and last week, the DSWT / KWS Vets treated a young orphaned rhino called Bahati, whose mother was shot by poachers. Surviving without her for a year, he died of wounds caused by a snare.

With just 5,000 black rhinos left, and as demand for rhino horn threatens to drive the species to extinction, it is imperative to protect the vulnerable species, giving them a chance for survival.

On World Rhino Day, you can support the work of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and help us protect the species by fostering Maxwell or Solio. Your donations means we can continue Maxwell's care and protection, whilst receiving monthly updates on their lives - wild and at our Nursery.

Photo: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

All images copyright to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust