Words: Natasha Anderson
The fight against poaching is relentless and seemingly never ending in Zimbabwe at the moment. All efforts are being made to stem the tide of poaching, but unfortunately this is not always possible. Poaching stories are usually horrific, depressing and demoralising. Out of all these sad tales, it’s heartening to report that we have a happier tale for one particular rhino orphan, Bebrave.
Bebrave was born in August 2010 and is the third calf of 12 year old black rhino cow Beknown. Beknown (so named because for many months she managed to elude rhino monitors – keeping her identity a frustrating secret) was the first calf of an orphaned Zambezi Valley black rhino called Fumbi who was had raised by Gill Mitchell on Mkashi Ranch back in 1992-1993. In August 2011 Bebrave’s mother and older sister, Benice, were shot by poachers. Bebrave was only one year old. Benice died at the scene but Beknown managed to run several kilometres even though she had sustained what would prove to be fatal body shots. The poachers axed the horns from the face of three year old Benice and hastily exited the conservancy. Bebrave was found dehydrated and distressed but still valiantly trying to protect his now dead mother from a determined and hungry pride of lions.
The Lowveld Rhino Trust quickly deployed to capture the vulnerable orphan before the lions got the better of him. By the time the team arrived the lions had driven the calf way from his mother and were now feeding on her carcass with the calf highly agitated in the bush somewhere nearby. With aerial support provided by Frankfurt Zoological Society the calf was eventually spotted and successfully captured. We were much relieved to find that Bebrave had not been shot, though he had suffered a few long scratches down his rump from the lions. The veterinarians, Dr Chap Masterson (of the Lowveld Rhino Trust) and Dr Chris Foggin (of the Wildlife Veterinary Unit) decided to treat Bebrave and to help fight infection he was injected with antibiotics and multivitamins and then moved to special rhino calf holding facilities. These facilities have sadly seen much use over recent years – with the last set of four poaching orphans released back into the wild only last year. Time and time again the Leathem family have taken on the formidable task of raising these animals till such time that they are large enough to be returned to the wild. Bebrave will be the eighth young rhino raised by the Leathem’s who continue do this enormously challenging work on a purely voluntary basis as a true labour of love.
At only one year old Bebrave needed to be fed eleven litres of special milk formula a day along with fresh browse, lucerne and game cubes which are funded by LRT. The formula is made up of skim milk powder, glucose and multivitamins. As he gets older milled brown rice will also be added to give extra energy. Black rhinos continue to drink milk till they are 20 months but will stay with their mothers till they are about two-and-a half years old – when the mother normally has a new calf and chases the larger one away. Bebrave will be kept in a special fenced area till he is closer to three to keep him safe from lions and other possible dangers.
Black rhinos are remarkably social animals and do best when they are able to have constant company. In the past we have normally had multiple orphans at the same time and so they have provided each other with much needed companionship. For entertainment, Bebrave had taken to throwing a tractor tyre around his enclosure, but was desperately missing ‘live’ companionship. Bebrave needed to make a friend of another kind and has now bonded with an orphaned eland that was also raised by the Leathem’s. Bebrave and the eland are inseparable and the two will make quite a pair when they are eventually returned to the bush.