Baby rhino 'suffering post-traumatic stress disorder' gets help.
By Dominick Mezzapesa
Witnessing the little rhino calf playing happily in the South African sunshine one would be surprised to find that it has been suffering from a condition most associated with those who have survived war zones.
But, Ithuba, a six-and-a-half months old, is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and has needed round the clock care since he was discovered alone in the bush.
Ithuba had been just over four months old when he witnessed his mother being brutally slaughtered in front of him. Standing by her dead body, exposed to the harsh realities of life Ithuba's chances of survival was next to nothing.
For eight days this poor baby was alone in the world until fate lent a hand and a rescue team happened upon him and took him to safety.
When Ithuba, whose name means 'chance' in Zulu, was lucky, arrived at his new home the Fundimvelo Thula Rhino Orphanage, he was severely traumatized, sick and injured, and malnutrition-ed.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on which prism you are looking at a particular situation, the team caring for Ithuba has been dealing with these orphans more each year as poachers become more and more brutal in their quest for Rhino horn.
The dedicated team has been working around the clock to bring Ithuba back to health - and he is finally ready to be unveiled to the world.
'He's been here for two months, but we've kept it quiet because he's so traumatized,' revealed Karen Trendler, the wildlife expert pioneering the treatment
for the growing number of calves who are thought to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Perhaps more concerning is the fact that the team is now also now seeing a marked increase in how badly calves are being injured in poaching incidents.
Karen said: 'As with any kind of violent crime, we're seeing an escalation in the violence. In the same way that house breakers become increasingly violent, the poachers are becoming increasingly violent.
'Years ago the calves were dehydrated, they were hanging around mum, but they weren't injured. We're now seeing calves are being injured, and injured very badly.'
Much of the time, the injuries happen as the younger calves try to reach their mothers, resulting in facial injuries as the poachers hit out at the calves.
Poaching is on the increase: worldwide, a rhino is killed for its horn every nine to 11 hours, according to the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos.
In South Africa alone, In the number of rhinos slaughtered by poachers has risen from 13 in 2007, to 1,215 last year.
The poaching problem is now so severe that the staff are now forced to take polygraph tests, and there are fears the entire 21,000-strong white rhino population could be extinct within 20 years.
More dangerously for the rhino is allowing it to get too used to humans - their only natural predator.
'One of the risks of over-taming a calf like Ithuba is that they stand and wait for the poachers to shoot them,' said Karen.
'For us, the thing that's worked in the past is that we have two or three keepers only, and then when gradually you break that bond with humans, they can go wild, they can interact with other rhino, they can breed.'
In Ithuba's case, there are three very particular keepers who have brought him back to health: Alyson McPhee, the mother figure for stability, Axel Tarifa, the 'older brother' for playing and protection, and Megan Richards, seen as 'more like another little female in the group'.
'It's not bunny hugging, it's ''appropriate surrogate mothering'',' said Karen.
'We looked in the wild at what the calf has, and then we replicated what's appropriate. In the wild he has a big solid mum that he leans against for comfort, she's there all the time, there's a huge amount of touching, tactile security.
'Calves that don't get that security, just like human babies, won't go and explore their environment, won't go and play.'
And every little thing the team can do to get Ithuba back on his feet so he can return to the wild and breed is vital. Karen said: 'You want to maximize the survival of every calf. Rhino numbers are dropping so fast every single calf counts.'
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