Published: Jan 06, 2008
Speedy the black rhino calf makes history at Lowveld game lodge
Speedy is a whopping 40kg baby boy who likes milk and strips of thorny bush and was running around just a few hours after birth.
One of South Africa’s favorite New Year babies is a rare black rhinoceros who has charmed everyone — rhino and human alike — at an exclusive wildlife lodge in Mpumalanga.
Born just before New Year’s Day, the baby rhino nicknamed Speedy was an unexpected arrival at Thornybush Game Reserve, close to the Kruger National Park.
His mother, looking a little hefty, arrived in May as part of a project to introduce rhino into the 12 000ha reserve.
Most surprised of all has been the reserve’s lone rhino bull, known only by his stud number 0751, who has spent the past seven years wandering alone. Not only does he now have a wife, he is also a surrogate dad to a youngster who likes chasing flies and chameleons.
Speedy is believed to be the first black rhino born in a private reserve in the Lowveld for more than a century. He was conceived in Madikwe Game Reserve in North West shortly before his mother, Mmalenyalo, was brought to Thornybush in a flat-bed truck.
There are less than 3000 black rhino in the world, of which about 600 live in South Africa. They are the most endangered large mammal species in Africa and cost about R1-million each.
The ambitious matchmaking project at Thornybush began in 2003 with the arrival of 0751, who was evicted from his home outside Pretoria after fighting with other rhinos. Game wardens tried for years to organize him a mate, but were hampered by financial and bureaucratic problems.
Even after Mmalenyalo arrived in May, the project hung in the balance for several months as the rhinos became acquainted — they could have attacked each other.
The two animals were kept in separate bomas a meter apart to allow them to familiarize. “Initially they wanted to kill each other,” explained project manager Eugene Potgieter. “But with time they have got used to each other and are now big chums. One has to minimize the possibility of a fatal fight between the two animals,” Potgieter said.
Mmalenyalo’s pregnancy meant sex was out of the question: “If she is pregnant her hormonal status will not allow him to become sexually aroused. She has to have at least a period of about 18 months before she becomes sexually receptive to the bull,” Potgieter said.
Wardens were pleased to see 0751 become increasingly interested in his pregnant neighbor, sniffing, snorting and peering into her boma.
Finally, last Saturday at around 3pm, Mmalenyalo gave birth. Wardens arrived about two hours after the event to find the baby already on his feet, with a proud mother nudging him forward.
Potgieter said: “The baby is 100% healthy and doing well, picking up weight, suckling, defecating, doing everything he is supposed to do. She is a very good mother.”
Even 0751 is impressed: “He is very excited and very interested. He wants to investigate but, as with dogs and other animals, the cow doesn’t want him to. She is very protective,” Potgieter said.
Now 0751 has at least another 18 months to wait to consummate his love affair — the time it takes for cows to rear their young before mating again.
Rhino love might be worth the wait. A rhino bull mates for between 12 and 43 minutes, during which time he ejaculates up to nine times. “This is the reason for the belief in the East that the rhino horn has sexual- arousal properties,” noted Potgieter.
Thornybush chief executive Nic Griffin hailed the rhino project as a remarkable success. “For the wardens involved it is really a passion. Our aim is to have five black rhino this time next year.”
The new calf will need plenty of help from his elders if he is to survive the carnivorous Thornybush reserve, where even 0751 needed three months to settle down.
Game warden Mike Pieterse described some of the difficulties involved: “Because he came from an area that had no elephants or lions, I was concerned about his safety and I camped next to the boma for three months in a tent. I eventually had to abandon the camping idea after numerous incidents with lions trying to get to me inside the tent. When they tore the tent open and bit the tent poles to pieces I had to call it a day.”