Orphaned Baby Rhino Shot by Poachers Released Back into Wild After Her Amazing Recovery

There is one more rhino in the wild thanks to the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), their partner the Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT), and a little calf with a fighter's spirit.

According to a release from the IRF, in July 2020, the LRT found a 16-month-old female black rhino calf wandering alone "in the bush of the Bubye Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe." Approaching the animal, LRT workers realized the rhino was injured and orphaned after poachers killed her mother.

After this discovery, the LRT team went to work and quickly secured veterinary care for the calf. Further examination of the baby rhino's injuries revealed them to be gunshot wounds from a heavy-caliber rifle, likely belonging to a poacher. The calf was given antibiotics and her wounds were clean. Too weak to go back out on her own, the little rhino "was then taken to specially constructed rhino bomas to continue to be cared for by LRT staff and to recover in safety away from lions and hyenas," reads the IRF's release.

"This little girl had enough personality and the fight for three rhinos,” Natasha Anderson, IRF’s Zimbabwe monitoring coordinator, said in a statement about the baby rhino's personality. "Although she was obviously scared without her mother and in considerable pain, the LRT team increasingly became more confident that she would recover from her bullet wounds because she was displaying what a fighter she was."

During her time under LRT care, the calf was given the name Pumpkin "for the soothing sound of the word." LRT staff stood outside Pumpkin's boma and repeated the word, and made "soothing 'rhino' noises," to help the baby animal feel less alone. The LRT also provided Pumpkin with two healthy meals a day.

"She became known as 'Princess Pumpkin' due to her very fussy eating habits and the hilarious mini tantrums she would throw if anything was off schedule," said Anderson.

LRT workers weren't the only ones visiting Pumpkin, the calf was also receiving evening pop-ins from a wild rhino named Rocky. After six weeks of care, Pumpkin was ready to fully leave her boma and return to the wild on strong legs, and with an even stronger sense of self. It appears that Pumpkin followed her heart after leaving LRT's care since the organization found signs she'd visited Rocky a few days after her release.

"It is likely that they will join up and live together, both finding the company they craved at last since tragically losing their mothers to poaching," said Anderson.

According to IRF, the black rhino population has seen a small increase to 5,630 from 5,500 in 2019. The species remains critically endangered. In 1970, there were 65,000 black rhinos in the wild, that number dropped to 2,300 in the early 1990s. The population is forecasted to continue to make small gains like it did in 2019.

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