Fab 4

The emotional intelligence of rhinos never ceases to amaze and humble us. All too frequently, we witness the fear, distrust, and uncertainty experienced by traumatized, newly orphaned calves. They desperately search for comfort and a sense of belonging, which is why we quickly introduce them to other rhinos of a similar age.

These introductions mark one of the most pivotal milestones in a rhino’s rehabilitation journey. For the first time since they felt the love and protection of their mother, these orphans find peace and comfort among others of their own species. We are continuously humbled by the depth of the connection between them and are amazed by the patience, gentleness, and empathy they display.

The friendships and crashes formed in these early stages only continue to strengthen throughout the rehabilitation phase. As part of a crash, they learn to develop rhino language and behavior, recognizing key body language and communication cues. These rhinos remain together as a crash until they are all ready to enter the reintroduction and release program together, and often continue to stay together until the males move off independently, and the females have their first calves.

Spirit, Jemu, Grey, and Lilli form a tight-knit crash, although Lilli is around 18 months younger than her friends. Lilli’s introduction to the group was not a conventional one; when she was rescued, there were no orphans of the same age. The closest in age was Spirit’s group, who were already weaned, and we were uncertain if they would accept her. Despite this, we decided to try, and what happened was a beautiful sight. The other rhinos greeted Lilli, who was substantially smaller than them, and immediately took her under their wings. She walked away with them instantly, and they became very protective of her. One of them would even accompany her when caregivers brought her milk to drink. In 2019, they entered the reintroduction and release program as a crash, while Lilli was still drinking milk! The guards would call her from her crash, feed her in the veldt, and then she would return to her group. They stayed a close-knit group over the next few years and developed in their reintroduction program.

As they got older, the girls remained very close, but over the last year, Grey has begun to venture from the group, initially starting slowly and now more frequently seen with various other cows. He most recently enjoys the company of older cows, Robyn and Satara, aged 11 years. But he is not yet a dominant bull, despite having many of the traits of one. He must still be submissive if the dominant bull is close by.

When rhino cows give birth, they leave their crashes and isolate with their baby. This has certainly been true of the new mothers at Care for Wild but when Spirit gave birth in 2023, both Lilli and Jemu stayed close and were extremely protective of Spirit and her new baby. However, Spirit, as a first-time mother was very unsure of her new role and the new calf she was responsible for. She too moved away from Lilli and Jemu to isolate with Muddy and bond with her. Spirit has stayed away with her calf for longer than the other mothers, who notably started to integrate their babies with the group at around 4 weeks. Spirit has only recently brought Muddy to the communal feeding site at 5 months old. She does not stay long and has not yet returned to the ‘crash’ as it was once known.