In May 2020, the Rhinos adopted Apollo, an orphaned wild rhino in Kenya, Africa. Here’s his story! You can also read his story on the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s website.
It all began with a routine aerial patrol together with the SWT’s Canine Unit, landing and checking out old poachers’ hideouts. They were patrolling difficult-to-access water spring sites along the Yatta Plateau as well, looking for any sign of poaching activity, when pilot Andy Payne received an emergency call from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The Senior Warden of Tsavo West National Park requested that the helicopter urgently assist in rescuing a young rhino calf which had just been spotted standing beside its dead mother by Tsavo Trust Super Cub pilot Nick Trent. The young calf needed to be rescued by ground teams before it was disturbed and fled too far from its mother. The Veterinary Unit would also be called upon to access the carcass and determine the cause of death.
KWS and Tsavo Trust had assembled four ground teams on site near Ndawe in the IPZ (Intensive Protection Zone) of Tsavo West National Park, home to a number of free ranging black rhino, coordinated by Nick Trent. Once the helicopter arrived on site, the ground crews moved in to surround the calf, but their movement was detected early by the alert calf who immediately took off in the opposite direction, giving them the slip. At this point the helicopter dropped in to try and turn the rhino who was running away from the rangers, however he would not be deterred and continued running completely unfazed be the low level blocking tactics of the SWT helicopter. To make matters worse, strong gusting winds tumbling over a line of hills was making for extremely challenging flying especially whilst following an animal at tree top height.
For a short time, both aerial and ground teams lost sight of the galloping calf as he simply vanished under the dense undergrowth. The next twenty minutes was spent searching the bush with everyone becoming increasingly concerned for his fate, before finally locating him once again. That desperate search to locate the rhino calf seemed like an eternity and everyone was extremely relieved to finally set eyes on him once again. The super cub was directing the ranger teams towards the helicopter shadowing the rhino but the men were struggling to keep up due to the challenging terrain. Several gallant attempts were made by the fittest rangers to tackle the calf, but none of them could hold onto him and all attempts failed.
Daylight was fast running out and we knew that it would be unlikely that the baby would survive the night due to predation, and if miraculously he did, finding him again would be close to impossible given how thick the vegetation was. It had reached crunch time; it was to be now or never. The ground teams by now were far from sight with the rhino was still galloping on, so a last ditch emergency effort unfolded. With Nick in the Super Cub circling high keeping eyes on the rhino, Andy in the helicopter landed in the only tiny clearing available and dropped Ben, SWT Canine handler, and Bakari, KWS Company Commander, who were both committed to making the final attempt at capture. The helicopter lifted and was quickly guided back onto the rhino by the Super Cub.
The calf was thankfully running parallel to Ben and Bakari’s position. Seconds later, Ben spotted him and after a lengthy sprint he pulled off a spectacular tackle, holding onto the rhino calf’s midriff as he was dragged several metres through the bush before the calf was brought under control when Bakari arrived and added some reinforcements.
Extreme conditions asked for extreme out of the box quick thinking as despite running miles, rhinos, even when just six months old, pack a serious punch and have incredible strength. Ben removed his shirt to cover the calf’s eyes to help calm him down, then removed his socks to place in the calf’s ears to help with the stress levels and finally removed his belt to restrain the rhinos legs. Bakari and Ben were with the rhino for roughly ten minutes before the ground teams caught up with them in order to help, still directed by the overhead aircraft. Andy returned to the open clearing to land once again and the challenging task ahead was to now move this feisty six month old rhino calf to where the helicopter was, some 500 meters away. Restraining a six month old rhino is no easy task, but the men involved in this rescue rose to the occasion because it took a herculean effort to pull off this rescue, before all hope was lost. They carried the rhino through the bush to the waiting SWT helicopter, and then loaded him with two rangers and Ben in the back seats holding onto their feisty passenger as if their life depended on it. Night was falling by this time, but there remained a rosy glow on the horizon.
Angela had been liaising with KWS authorities in the meantime and was given permission for the rhino to be flown to SWT’s stables at Kaluku. Taking off with just enough light on the horizon, the helicopter with its unusual cargo made the short 15 minute flight back to base with three men and a rhino in the back using all their strength to keep him restrained. They were immensely relieved to offload the calf at 7.15pm into the care of the waiting SWT Keepers and ground crews. He was then driven the short distance to his stable and first given a number of injections including a tranquilizer because by now his stress levels were extreme. He did begin to calm down and very soon was suckling on a bottle of rehydration fluids which he certainly needed after the huge distances he had run.
It was a restless night for all concerned, but incredibly by morning he was feeding on his milk bottle, although he was still quite feisty and suckles were soon interrupted by a charge at the shin, so the Keepers had to be on their toes. With the help of a broom they were able to rub his tummy which had the desired effect and he very quickly calmed down and within two days his Keepers were able to share his stable with him. We have positioned our three most experienced rhino Keepers with him, men who have raised many black rhinos over the years, so that he is in the best possible care. On the third day he was ready to take his first walk outside of his stable to a specially created mud bath just for him. He allowed his Keepers to plaster the mud onto him and then enjoyed his dust bath afterwards, and in no time he was trailing his Keepers on lengthy walks. He has developed a very sweet little idiosyncrasy of hoisting his mattress into a tent shape and resting under it, sometimes sleeping under the mattress. He is not the only rhino we have seen do this, Maalim used to as well. It provides him comfort and a sense of security, and it probably feels likes the protective form of his Mum shadowing him.
KWS Veterinary officer Dr. Poghon, who is seconded to the SWT-funded Tsavo Veterinary Unit, went to the site to further inspect the cause of death of the calf’s mother and confirmed that his mother, a well know female called Amoy who was part of Tsavo West National Park free release population of black rhino, had died of Anthrax.
Rescuing this six month old baby rhino was only made possible due to a fantastic effort between KWS, SWT and Tsavo Trust with Ben and Bakari’s brave actions undoubtedly saving the day. We have called Amoy’s little calf Apollo, and already Apollo has learnt the ropes and grown familiar with his new environment at Kaluku, thankfully not very far from where he was born, so everything around him remains importantly familiar.
Apollo the Black Rhino, One Month and On
Oct, 30, 2019
Thankfully an aerial patrol spotted the calf and dead Mum from the air and sounded the alarm, with enough daylight left to mount a rescue. Rhino calves are extremely
vulnerable to predators and left alone and overnight at just a few months old would spell almost certain death. It was a challenging rescue for sure, involving many different teams explained in Apollo’s profile story, but eventually he was restrained and flown to Kaluku where he lives today.
A month on, Apollo has settled well into his new home and is very happy. He begins his days early, emerging from his stable at six in the morning to mill around close to home after enjoying his morning milk feed. He occupies himself while his Keepers have their morning tea and chapati’s brought to them before preparing for the day ahead. The Keepers look to vary each day, visiting different areas to ensure Apollo’s territory is constantly expanding, all the while having lots of exercise and play while doing so.
Most of the action takes place early in the day and late in the afternoons; the times when the temperature is cooler and the energy levels are high! Midday, in the biting heat, the team tend to rest up in the shade, either on the shaded banks of a dry river bed or under the wide reaching branches of an acacia tortillas tree, or perhaps in the giant shadow of a baobab, allowing Apollo to have a rest. While on their wanders in the bush Apollo is constantly computing the areas he visits and having visited them once he never forgets them. The team like to explore the many river beds in the area and sometimes head down onto the generous beaches on the Athi River; with its soft banks of sand fringed by giant tamarind tress, doum palms and river acacias, it is an ideal playground for long gallops or just rolling around in the cool soft sand. This spectacle never ceases to awaken the lazy hippos who pop their heads up to watch proceedings.
Apollo loves his daily excisions and certainly forces his Keepers to have a good helping of daily aerobic activity, so they are certainly fit because keeping up with his escapades is no easy task! With Apollo galloping at ones heels, one is mindful of his breaking system and just how effective it will be! The sand and mud baths are relished at all ti
mes of day, and tummy rubs never fail to lull him into a blissful stupor but never are the mud baths more necessary than in the heat of the day when the sun scorches in hot Tsavo – a lavish coat of red earth mud packed onto his skin not only helps keep him cool but also helps protect him from any irritating insects, and helps keep his skin condition soft and supple. These tactile times with his Keeper’s rubbing his tummy, head, ears and little stub of a horn are savoured at any time of day however.
We always have two Keepers on duty with Apollo because they tend to walk quite far afield, and most days encounter a number of wild animals along the way, varying from elephants, to the tiny dik-dik. His milk feeds are brought to him where ever he is in the bush and between milk feeds his diet is complemented by lavish amounts of greens, much of which he browses on himself, but tasty bits are collected by the Keepers and shared with him too. They are familiar with his favourite shrubs and always make sure healthy bunches are by his side even when he is recumbent and resting. He loves to sleep at their feet, comforted by their close proximity, and takes many naps throughout the day. In the evening he circles back to his stable where he finds his much loved mattress. The love affair with the mattress is still very much evident as he hoists it up and over him before settling down on a soft bed of hay for the night with his mattress covering his head!
Jan. 13, 2020
We have been blessed with some incredible rainfall across the Tsavo region in recent months. The rains began way back in early October, and unbelievably here we are, well into a new year and new decade, and the rain is still falling! The rivers are full to the brim, and even lazy sand luggas are dry no more. Luckily, the rains are punctuated by some brilliantly sunny days in between, which helps the land spring to life. The wilderness positively pulsates from all the breeding, building, and buzzing that this season brings.
No one is happier about his rainy circumstances than Apollo. His present home is close to two rivers: The Athi, which is a permanent river, and the Mtito River, which is a picturesque rocky lugga. The Mtito River flows only when rains fall further towards the Chyulu Hills, sweeping the lugga clean and leaving behind deep, clear pools of fresh water.
Both rivers are a veritable playground for little Apollo. He loves to clamber up the steep embankments and loll on the cool white sand while he gets rubs from his Keepers. He trots happily along the beach and takes little sips from the still pools along the lugga. All the scents around these watering spots are of great interest to Apollo, as he is very much a creature driven by scent, so he spends hours exploring and investigating them — all while making sure his own territory is clearly marked.
When the heavens open, this just serves as a cue for Apollo to become friskier than ever. He leaps and spins and charges around, slipping and sliding, hoisting red muddy piles with his little snub horn cheekily perched atop his nose. Beneath the sheltering arms of the giant baobabs or flat-topped acacia tortilis trees, the Keepers stay dry and watch their little charge having the time of his life. Any efforts to coax him back to his stable during a downpour are in vain: It’s the wet conditions that really spur him on, and when he has bursts of exuberance, Apollo listens to nobody!
Rhinos are solitary creatures by nature, and Apollo is very comfortable keeping his own company. He does love to have his Keepers by his side, as he knows where the tummy rubs and warm milk bottles come from, and he is quick to run to them if ever he gets startled. However, he could certainly have playmates if he desired them as Kaluku, where we are currently raising the little rhino, is the Trust’s field headquarters and home to several other orphans. Baby buffalo Ivia is very keen to befriend him, but this is a rather one-sided affair, as Apollo responds to all Ivia’s invitations to play by charging at him with his rather robust head!
Indeed, Apollo has grown rapidly in the four months since we rescued him. He is in peak condition, possibly even bordering on chubby! This is hardly surprising, given that he still savours his bottles of milk and has a bounty of greens second to none this season. He’s beginning to look less and less like a baby, and more like a pint-sized version of an adult rhino.
Apollo’s bedtime routine is always the same. Once he’s in for the night, he promptly hoist his mattress over his back like a little wearable tent. When that is firmly in place and fitted to his liking, he wanders around his cosy wooden stable and samples the greens that have been cut for him. With this little ritual completed, he flops into the soft hay — under the mattress tent all the while — to enjoy a well-deserved sleep. The comforting presence of his Keeper sleeping on the bunk above him completes this blissful picture.
Apollo’s May 2020 Update
Simply put, Apollo is in paradise. The rain storms continued to sweep across Tsavo in the month of April, leaving a profusion of vegetation in their wake. Our little rhino can usually be found with an ipomoea creeper trailing from his mouth; the white flowers blanket every shrub and Apollo manages to munch through huge quantities of them. It’s almost as if he knows that this delicacy will wither the moment the rains abate, and is determined to enjoy every mouthful possible.
The rains have filled the rivers to bursting point, submerging Apollo’s favoured beaches and leaving the sand luggas susceptible to floods, so much of April was spent away from the raging waters. The rains also bring a most unwelcome arrival, in the form of biting tetse flies, which can make life most unpleasant even for our thick-skinned fellow — not to mention the Keepers who care for him! Every precaution is taken, however, and Apollo is used to their buzzing presence.
A pride of three lions lingered in the area during the early part of the month, which meant that Apollo and his entourage had to take extra care when out and about. The Keepers shepherded Apollo to open ground, so when his bouts of exuberance kicked in, they could keep up with him at all times. He lost his sparring partners Cheza and Ivia, as both baby buffalo were moved to our Voi Reintegration Unit earlier in the month, but Apollo has no shortage of potential playmates: These days, the orphaned kudus and Oka the oryx have taken to shadowing the little rhino. While he shows little interest in them, they seem to enjoy spending time with him and the Keepers.
The mud bath remains a highlight of Apollo’s day. After thoroughly coating himself in the cool red earth, he settles down for a snooze. When it dries on his skin, the mud also creates an effective barrier against the biting flies. While Apollo has the mud bath to look forward to twice a day, he also finds time for plenty of impromptu wallows, flopping enthusiastically into any pools of water that he comes across in his travels. Safe to say, he is certainly a water baby.
As a creature of routine, Apollo knows exactly when it’s time to call it a day, and happily plods into his night stockade at 5:00 PM. His little bedtime ritual remains the same: He hoists his mattress over him like a tent and then quietly settles down to sleep. Now, his milk feeds only take place during the day, so when he wakes up for a midnight snack, he is content to polish off the freshly cut greens in his stable. Our boy is certainly growing up, but he still remains very much a baby!
See See Apollo’s paradise of white flowers and pampered mud baths in the video below.
Apollo’s June 2020 Update
\Apollo continues to run the show at our Kaluku Field HQ. While the vegetation is still thick and green, the rains have abated and hot days are beginning to dry the landscape. Now that the Athi River has calmed down, he is once again cruising to his usual beat. After sprinting, strolling, and rolling his way along the washed white beaches, he continues his explorations through the thick bush and down sandy luggas shaded by acacia and tamarind trees. While he is very much still milk-dependent, Apollo has a hearty appetite for greens, and has perfected the art of walking and browsing.
It’s always incredible how effectively tiny, biting insects can hassle an animal as big as a rhino. Tsetse flies were particularly persistent in their assaults, and their sharp proboscis were able to penetrate Apollo’s thick skin and caused him a lot of grief. His Keepers developed an ingenious makeshift fly swat, made from wild sage branches, which banished any pests that buzzed in his direction. Each swat filled the air with the intoxicating scent of the wild sage, which seemed helpful as well! On top of that, Apollo enjoyed extra lavish mud baths, protecting his skin with a thick layer of dried mud to ward off his tiny aggressors.
Lots of wild elephants passed through the area this month, which complicated Apollo’s jaunts into the bush. Thankfully, our little rhino is extremely alert, so he would realise their presence and give the Keepers plenty of time to change course. These elephants have lots of babies in tow, and share many of Apollo’s favourite haunts, notably the mud bath. Because they largely wallow under the cover of darkness, he can still monopolise it during the day. Apollo doesn’t seem to mind sharing it; in fact, the elephants have made the mud bath far more substantial in size and depth, which seems to be to his liking!
Rhinos are full of little idiosyncrasies, and we have noticed that Apollo is very particular about his Keepers. While a group of men have been caring for him from the very beginning, there are only a select few whom Apollo is prepared to listen to. He is very dismissive towards those who aren’t among his chosen few, and often ignores their instructions entirely. This is certainly a trait among black rhinos; time and again, we’ve seen orphans in our care pick their favourites.
He may be growing up fast, but Apollo remains a very playful baby. In fact, our Keepers have quite an intense workout regimen just by running after him! The expansive Kaluku airstrip is an ideal place for him to burn off some energy, and with Apollo hot on your heels, he can definitely encourage a blistering pace. He has his quiet moments too, and a quick way to Apollo’s heart is to be proactive during mud bath sessions. He loves to be plied with mud and cool water, and lays there in a trance as the Keepers’ rub his back and tummy. This is, however, the calm before the storm, and as soon as these sessions in the mud bath are over, he is positively exploding with energy. For a good twenty minutes he charges around, huffing and puffing, and spinning and galloping through bushes. These little bursts of activity are over as quickly as they began, and it’s never long before he flops to the ground to sleep. His midday naps often take place under Apollo’s favourite baobab tree. We have built a seat for the Keepers to rest in the shade as well — and these moments of relaxation are well-deserved, after keeping pace with Apollo all day! After a few rubs to the tummy, the little rhino slips into a blissful stupor and the Keepers can enjoy a quiet lunch, which is brought out to them. They have a radio on-hand at all times, so food and milk finds them wherever they need it.
At the end of the day, Apollo and his team amble home. He knows exactly which stable is his and is always eager to settle down for the night. He still hoists his mattress over his back, like a little tent, before going to sleep. Given his growing size, he’s quickly outgrowing this little habit and it now perches rather precariously over his generous girth, but that doesn’t seem to bother him!
Thank you so much for your continued support of Apollo and the orphans, which enables us to provide for all their wants and needs. Do look out for our full monthly update on the Orphans’ Project, which I will be sending later today.