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 he
althy 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!
Apollo’s love of Life and Water
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.
Apollo’s July 2020 Update
Our boy is getting more burly by the day. He is mostly mellow, munching his way through the undergrowth, but every now and then he is overcome with energy. During these times he charges about, and while it’s all in good fun, he cuts quite a fearsome sight as he barrels forward at a flat-out gallop! Everyone keeps a respectable distance when he is in these moods, ready to dodge any sudden bursts. He has many friends and fans among the staff here at Kaluku, our field headquarters, but they choose to admire him from a safe distance, aware that his playful bursts can happen at any time
Kaluku, like all of Tsavo, is drying out. Gone are the white ipomoea creepers with their wide, sun-facing flowers. The landscape has reverted to its more familiar state of dusty, muted hues, and all the abundant greenery of the past few months is quickly becoming a distant memory. Thankfully, rhinos are able to feast on much of this rather unappetising vegetation, their formidable molars making quick work of tough succulents and thorny branches, so Apollo continues feasting to his heart’s content. He remains very much milk-dependent, but we have noticed an uptick in the amount of vegetation he consumes between feeds.
One perk of the onset of the dry season is that the dreaded tsetse flies have all but vanished. However, this month brought in new, much larger guests: A number of elephant herds swept through the area, eager to enjoy the remaining ipomoea creepers before they withered completely. They know the area is safe, so many chose to hang around throughout the month. Apollo and his entourage bumped into a number of elephants and their tottering babies, but they took no chances and gave them a wide berth. Our little rhino remains absolutely fascinated by these oversized visitors and always stares at them wide-eyed with wonder.
Apollo’s favourite time of day remains the mud bath. He flops down on the ground, inviting the Keepers to lather his body in cool mud, before sprinkling him with a dusting of red earth. This ritual has an immediate calming effect on Apollo, and he goes into a blissful stupor. However, these moments are always short-lived, because immediately afterwards he leaps to his feet with a new lease on life. In the wake of these sessions, everyone must be on their guard, because this is when he has a real spring in his step!
Apollo cuts an impressive figure now, but he is still very much a baby — as we are reminded when he bleats for his bottle or squeaks loudly when a Keeper pops out of sight for a moment. After a full day, he saunters home just before 5.00pm. His bedtime remains unchanged; at last light, he hoists the mattress over his back and sleeps in a cosy little cocoon. This is when the Keepers can enjoy a cup of tea, play some darts, and have their evening meal fresh from the canteen before turning in for the night. One Keeper always bunks up with Apollo, sleeping in a bed perched high in his stockade, to make sure he has everything he needs throughout the night. And then, it is lights out for everyone, as the little rhino’s deep breathing joins the chorus of other nocturnal sounds.
Thank you so much for your continued support of Apollo and the orphans, which enables us to provide for all their wants and needs.
Apollo’s August 2020 Update
One glance at Apollo and his expanding girth, and it’s immediately evident that our boy is growing up fast. We can also tell through his mannerisms, which continue to evolve. He is getting bolder and more confident, hurtling further afield during his daily bursts of energy. Although he does always circle back to his Keepers, these independent escapades show how comfortable he is with his territory at Kaluku. He is also expanding his palette, sampling different greens and all in all, becoming more experimental with his browsing sessions.
Apollo likes to run the show. His mornings are all about play and exploring, while he prefers to spend his afternoons in repose. As the sun begins to sink in the sky, he has just two things on his mind: his bedroom and his evening milk bottle. If his Keepers choose a route that Apollo feels might delay this part of proceedings, he simply bypasses them and heads home on his own!
The resident population of guinea fowl has increased tenfold this year, and as a result, Kaluku is positively aflutter with fast growing chicks. chicks. Apollo loves to spend time in their midst, oblivious to their shrill chirps. He is a rhino who enjoys the company of other creatures; he often mingles with the other orphans at Kaluku, including Oka the oryx and our many kudus who live close to home. However, he does have his limits. When a newly born wild waterbuck leapt up from the nearby undergrowth, Apollo bolted with a chorus of huffs and snorts. It took a long time before the Keepers were able to locate him and calm his frazzled nerves.
Now that it is quite a bit colder, Apollo has adapted his mud bath routine accordingly. Now, he avoids the water and focuses on dusting. The Keepers spoil him in this regard, creating a shallow mud wallow where he can coat his skin without getting too chilly. True to form, once he is lathered up in dust, he erupts from the earth in high spirits. This is the time to keep your distance, as the burly little tank is a ball of energy, galloping back and forth with gusto for a good 20 minutes. After he has spun himself into exhaustion, he settles under the baobab tree. The Keepers give him a tummy rub, which sends him into a blissful stupor, and he usually takes a long nap in the shade.
Sunup to sundown, Apollo’s Keepers are always by his side. These daily adventures are vital, allowing Apollo to hone his instincts and learn the ways of the wild so that one day, when he is big enough to fend for himself, he can look to lead a totally independent life. For orphaned rhinos, this is a lengthy process. Raising a baby rhino is one thing, but reintegration is a formidable challenge. This is the opposite of elephants, who are difficult to raise but easy to reintegrate, thanks to their exceptionally social nature. Rhinos, which are largely solitary creatures, take longer to accept newcomers. However, we have successfully reintegrated a number of orphaned rhinos, and we know that the slow-but-steady approach works well. Apollo will remain in our care for some time to come, but every day marks a bit of progress in his ultimate reintegration journey.
Thank you so much for your continued support of Apollo and the orphans, which enables us to provide for all their wants and needs.
Apollo’s September 2020 Update
For Apollo, the theme of this month was chasing. He has developed a passion for pursuing squirrels and birds, especially the guinea fowl whose numbers have blossomed thanks to this year’s extended rainy season. He has found that charging into their midst creates quite a stir, which delights the young rhino, and he makes it a daily occurrence. He also loves to playfully chase around the five orphaned lesser kudu we are also raising at Kaluku, as well as Oka the oryx, who has grown into a very majestic creature, but her saber-like horns don’t daunt Apollo, and she too is roped into chasing games!
Tsavo is hot and dry right now, so with the exception of his chasing games, Apollo’s days are dominated by leisurely mud baths followed by dusting, before a long siesta under the shade of the baobab tree. He sleeps for up to two hours, while his Keepers also enjoy a well-deserved break and eat their lunch. When he is ready to move on to the next activity, Apollo lets out his characteristic snorts, and then leads his little band to a new browsing area.
Apollo must have a built-in clock, because he begins wandering in the direction of the stockades at exactly 16:30 every afternoon. Without any coaxing, he makes a beeline for his stable and settles down for the evening. We have removed the middle partition, doubling the size of his stable to accommodate our growing boy. One thing he has not yet outgrown is his mattress: He still insists on hoisting it over his back, before turning in for the night!
Apollo’s October 2020 Update
Our little Apollo is no longer so little! September 21st marked his first rescueversary — a date all involved will always remember. It began with a routine aerial patrol, taking our Canine Unit to investigate old poachers’ hideouts. Their day took a rather dramatic turn when they received reports of an orphaned rhino in Tsavo West National Park, who was standing beside his dead mother. A truly spectacular operation unfolded over the course of several hours, involving two aircraft, several teams, and unfaltering determination to bring the calf to safety. Apollo was only six months old at the time of his rescue, but he still packed a serious punch. It took all the strength of three full-grown men to keep him safely restrained during the 15-minute flight to our Kaluku Field HQ.
Now, Apollo is 19 months old and blossoming into a very handsome rhino. It has been searingly hot in Tsavo this month, so he has been enjoying the slower pace of life this dry season brings. He makes the most of the cool mornings, refreshed from a good night’s sleep and eager to charge around the Kaluku compound. Once the temperatures begin to rise, he makes a beeline for his favorite mud bath — a spot that is also frequented by wild elephants, though never at the same time. This might be Apollo’s preferred time of day. He basks in the cool water, wriggling around as his Keepers apply a protective coat of red mud all over his body, before flopping down in the soft red earth pile for a generous dusting.
After a leisurely wallow, Apollo spends the hottest hours of the day in repose under the shade of the tamarind trees. This is also when the Keepers eat their lunch, which is brought out for them to enjoy along the banks of the Mtito lugga. This tranquil lunch time scene is usually complemented by resident hornbills who have learnt to swoop in to benefit from rice handouts. They hop about, jumping over Apollo, who despite their brazenness remains oblivious so deep is his sleep.
The lull in activity wraps up as the temperature dips to a more comfortable level, at which point Apollo perks right up and does the rounds browsing, before later indulging in a late afternoon burst of energy. Some days, he runs along the luggas, kicking up white sand with every step. Other days, he delights in chasing the guinea fowl that hang around the stockade compound. Whatever strikes his fancy, he plays until bed time. Then, always on time, he escorts his Keepers to his stable, where he takes his fill of water before slurping down an evening bottle of milk. With plenty of cut browse hung in his bedroom he can continue snacking before settling himself under his mattress (this remains his nighttime ritual!) and drifting off to sleep.
Apollo’s November 2020 Update
Ask anyone at our Kaluku Field HQ about baby Apollo, and their response will probably be the same: He’s not such a baby anymore! In fact, when you see him barreling around the compound, he has all the brawn and burliness we associate with adult rhinos. While Apollo has many years until he reaches maturity, one glance at him and you can see a projection of the formidable rhino he will be when fully grown.
At just 20 months old, however, Apollo is still very young. Lest we forget this fact, he offers up constant reminders: rushing back to his Keepers if a mysterious noise startles him, snuggling under his little tent each night, or squeaking loudly for his milk feeds. Indeed, the Keepers start their day accompanied by a symphony of squeaks coming from Apollo’s stable. Once he wakes up and hears the team preparing morning milk bottles for the orphans, he can’t resist chiming in to make sure he isn’t forgotten — not that he ever has been!
After slurping down his bottles, Apollo heads out into the bush surrounding our Kaluku compound. Some days, his Keepers choose the route; others, he leads the way. He has developed a fun morning ritual, swinging through our Field Operation Manager’s lawn, where the orphaned antelope like to graze. Fuelled by his milk and energised by the crisp morning air, Apollo is usually feeling particularly feisty at this point. He burns off steam by running around the lawn as fast as his legs will carry him, engaging the kudus, oryx or eland in a chasing game, if they are up for it.
Whether his explorations take him down the sandy lugga or through the bush, Apollo always ends up at the same place around 11 o’clock: the mud bath. This is where he finds his bliss, striking all sorts of poses until he is fully slathered in mud. Knowing that he is quite tuckered out by this time, the Keepers often encourage Apollo to take a nap. They murmur, “Lala Apollo, lala!” (“lala” is the Swahili word for sleep) and, as if he’s in a trance, the little rhino sinks to the ground and shuts his eyes. This is followed by a more extended snooze under the shade of the nearby baobab tree, while his Keepers enjoy their lunch.
This same lullaby also helps Apollo settle down for the night, although he rarely needs much encouragement. At the end of another exciting day, he is usually tired out by the time he returns home. He finds a spotless stable awaiting him, full of freshly cut greens to munch on. After a warm bottle of milk, Apollo seeks out the mattress in the corner and, as he has done since day one, hoists it over himself like a little tent. This is our sign that Apollo is ready to “lala,” no doubt dreaming of the adventures that await him the next day.
Apollo loves his games of chase with the antelopes
Apollo’s January 2021 Update
Apollo is beginning to look every inch a magnificent rhino, with his armour-like hide and formidable front horn. In fact, one needs to remind oneself that he is just 22 months old! He is still a juvenile by the standards of any large mammal, but especially a rhino: After all, this is a species that can live up to 35+ years, and males don’t reach sexual maturity until they are as old as ten. In other words, our journey with Apollo is only beginning.
Like a typical juvenile, he has been developing a bit of an attitude. He is growing increasingly independent and can be very stubborn when the mood strikes him. One night this month, he staged another nocturnal rebellion, flatly refusing to return to his stable until nearly midnight. His Keepers know that when he is feeling this way, it is best to stand aside and wait until his petulant mood passes.
While he is making a big show of his growing independence, Apollo remains very hooked on his Keepers. When he hears them approaching his stable in the morning, he begins squeaking in delight. This convivial mood continues throughout the day, as he happily plods after — or, depending on his energy level, runs ahead of — his Keepers from activity to activity. Apollo definitely prefers to have his regular crew around him, and acts aloof towards any strangers who enter his orbit.
Watch: Apollo’s private spa sessions sometimes include a feathered neighbour
Apollo doesn’t spend too much time fraternizing with the other orphans at our Kaluku Field HQ, for the simple reason that rhinos are solitary by nature and happiest in their own company. However, before he heads out into the bush each morning, he usually meanders up to the lawn to see what the antelopes and other rescued orphans are up to. During his afternoon mud bath, Bristle the orphaned ostrich sometimes joins him from a safe distance. It is a remarkable sight to see these two prehistoric-looking creatures enjoying the sun and mud together!
Rukinga and Bristle, two of the eclectic group of orphans at Kaluku with Apollo Rhinos are creatures of habit. It is unsurprising, then, that Apollo is very attached to his daily routine. This begins with his morning bottle of milk and continues throughout the afternoon as he explores the Tsavo ecosystem. Saturated by all the recent rains, the area remains a lush playground for our little rhino. He is learning the lay of the land, discovering the best plants to eat and even getting the hang of mud bathing without the assistance of his Keepers, however, he certainly doesn’t mind them doing all the work.
As the sun sets, Apollo trots right home — unless, of course, he is in one of his obstinate moods! Most nights, however, he makes a beeline for his stable. After polishing off his milk, he samples the fresh cut greens that have been set out for him, before burrowing underneath his beloved mattress. He is a very sound sleeper, and as soon as he shuts his eyes, our little rhino is blissfully oblivious to the rest of the world.
Apollo’s March 2021 Update
Black rhinos have two horns, which continue to grow throughout their life. The size and shape of the horns vary by individual, but typically, males have thicker horns, while females have longer and thinner ones. (Interestingly, the same generalization applies to male and female elephants and their tusks). When we rescued Apollo as a six-month-old calf, his horns were little more than stubs. Now, on the cusp of his second birthday, he is growing into a rather formidable fellow, with impressive horns and an equally impressive stature. Of course, Apollo has lots of growing left to do, but it is easy to forget that when looking upon him!
It has been very warm and dry in Tsavo, which sends all the wildlife into a bit of a stupor. Apollo is no exception, and he spent much of the month cooling off in the mud bath. It is quite a sight to see this ritual unfold. He makes a beeline for it after his mid-morning milk bottle, knowing exactly what’s in store. The Keepers find him reclined in the mud, waiting expectantly for them. As soon as they begin to coat his body in mud, he falls into a total trance, moving only to proffer his tummy and back and sturdy legs for their spa treatment. While Apollo is more than capable of coating himself at this point, he enjoys the indulgence all the same.
After spending some time in a muddy, blissful daze, Apollo leaps back to his feet and hustles off to the next activity. In these moments, everyone must be on their guard, because he is positively exploding with energy. For a good half hour, he gallops through the bush, spinning on his heels to circle back towards the Keepers before sprinting off again. He loves when they run after him, leaving everyone huffing and puffing by the end of the activity.
Black rhinos are built for browsing rather than grazing. This is evidenced by their hooked upper lip, which is purpose-made for plucking leaves. Apollo has become an expert in this respect, efficiently snacking on the tasty vegetation he finds in his daily travels. These usually take him down the sandy beaches along the Athi River, then through sandy luggas shaded by acacia and tamarind trees. While he remains very much still milk-dependent, Apollo has a very hearty appetite for greens and can’t resist stopping to snack every few steps.
For Apollo, every day is a mix of new discoveries and beloved routines. By 5 o’clock, he is ready to call it a night and trots back to the Kaluku compound. By this point, Bristle the ostrich, Rukinga and Tunga the oryxes, Susu the eland, and Mkubwa the buffalo are also preparing for bed. Everyone is brought into their cozy stables while the Keepers prepare their evening milk bottles. Apollo is by far the most impatient in this respect, and pokes his head over his stable door, squeaking loudly lest the Keepers forget how eager he is to be fed! This is one of our many reminders that, while Apollo increasingly looks and behaves like a big rhino, he is still very much a baby.