8th Nov, 2017

Written by Dorota Ladosz – Rhino Caretaker/Rhino Mom, Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary

It was a full moon on the evening of the 8th August 2017 when rangers at Sabie Sands heard gunshots ring out through the reserve.

Using the full moon for light, warden Dave Powrie and his team went to investigate in a Jet Ranger helicopter. Their hearts sank when they found an adult white rhino cow, shot, her horn cruelly hacked off. They continued on looking for the poachers. Using thermal imaging, the team spotted a month-old rhino calf and followed her all the way to neighbouring Manyaleti Game Reserve to protect her from lions.

Reaching out for help

Dave called Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) officials in Manyaleti to help with the distressed little rhino calf.

Around 21:00, MTPA officials also contacted Petronel Nieuwoudt at Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary in Mpumalanga to inform her of an orphaned rhino in need of her help. Pilot Wayne Kenneth was contacted immediately and another Jet Ranger made available. With Wayne as the pilot, MTPA veterinarian Dr Ferreira du Plessis, together with Chris Hobkirk, left the Nelspuit airport and were airborne by 21:30.

Dr Johan Marais from Saving the Survivors and his assistant, Zoe, with the help of MTPA officials at Manyaleti, darted and retrieved the orphaned calf at 23:38.

The calf was rushed to Dr Ferreira who was waiting at the Manyaleti helipad. By 23:42, Wayne and his crew, the little sedated calf on Dr Ferreira’s lap, were airborne and on their way back to Nelspruit. During the flight, Dr Ferreira was monitoring all the calf’s vitals.

Rescuing Rubybelle

At 00:15 on the 9th August 2017, the calf arrived at the Nelspruit airport where Petronel and her team were already waiting. The calf was placed on the back seat of a 4x4 vehicle with her head resting on Petronel’s lap and they sped off to the Rhino Sanctuary.

Just an hour later, the scared, hungry calf, now named Rubybelle, arrived at the ICU centre of Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary where the staff was prepared for her arrival. The winter night was cold and the ICU room had been preheated for Rubybelle. The team monitored her vitals constantly, worried that she wouldn’t make it after her traumatic experience.

By 07:00 the same morning, Rubybelle had already guzzled two litres of warm milk and electrolytes. She spent the next three days eating and recovering from her ordeal under the watchful eyes of her carers.

Little survivor

Three days later, Rubybelle was let out into the ICU boma for the first time. At first she was hesitant, but this brave little rhino soon relaxed – and then she absolutely loved it. The next day she had a mud bath! The day after that, she was weighed and came in at a healthy 92kg.

A week later, Rubybelle was introduced to two other young orphans, Khanya and Rose. Despite their size and age differences (Khanya weighing over 300kg and Rose over 200kg), Rubybelle stood her ground and integrated with the big girls very well.

We are happy to report that Rubybelle has been continuously picking up weight, together with other two orphans in her crash (the name for a group of rhinos). She absolutely loves chin scratches and her warm milk.

Rubybelle was rescued in record time, which is why she managed to survive. We would like to say a very special THANK YOU to all the people involved in her rescue.

The quick response and caring hearts of all involved has helped to save another rhinoceros.

Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary

Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary was founded by Petronel Nieuwoudt, who has over 20 years’ experience in the care and conservation of wild animals. The Sanctuary focuses on the care of infant, injured and/or orphaned wild animals, mainly rhinos, and is proud of their many success stories. They aim to release the rehabilitated animals into their natural habitat in a protected environment. The Sanctuary is proud to be the largest rhino sanctuary and orphanage in the world.

For more information, contact Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary on 013 590 4448, email, or visit their website at Follow their Facebook page @careforwild for regular videos and updates of Rubybelle and her friends.