Donnie, a two-month-old orphaned baby rhino at the Kruger National Park in South Africa, who was in danger after his mother was killed by poachers, has been evacuated from the park and flown to a rehabilitation center in the Mpumalanga province of the country.
News24 reports that caregivers at the rescue center said that Donnie was recovering.
According to a spokesperson for the Kruger National Park, tourists alerted park officials about Donnie’s plight. He said that rangers found his mother’s carcass on Sunday and confirmed reports that she was killed by poachers.
Before Donnie was rescued, he was photographed trying to replace his mother by approaching passing cars. He apparently mistook the cars for potential adoptive mothers.
A heartbreaking photo snapped last month and posted to Facebook shows the orphaned baby rhino pressing his body against a grey car parked on a dirt road near the Phabeni Gate at the Kruger National Park.
The poor baby rhino apparently thought that the car could adopt him and become his mother. He was too young and inexperienced to understand that the car was not a living animal.
Kruger National Park ranger Don English, who found Donnie and helped to evacuate him from the wild, also said that poachers killed his mother and left him to fend for himself in the wild.
English helped a veterinary doctor to tranquilize Donnie and arrange for him to be transported by air to the care center in Mpumalanga.
English’s daughter Debbie, said that poor Donnie suffered a cardiac arrest after being tranquilized and while being transported by air to Mpumalanga reserve.
According to Debbie in a series of posts to Facebook, the pilot was forced to make an emergency landing after the young rhino’s heart stopped beating.
Debbie also posted to Facebook photos showing the young animal undergoing the ordeal of the transportation to the rehabilitation center.
It is uncertain from Debbie’s posts what caused Donnie to suffer a cardiac arrest. But it could have been an unwanted effect of the tranquilizer.
“After three minutes of resuscitation and trying everything to save him, everyone involved was amazed (some with tear filled eyes) when he gasped for air and his little heart started up again.
“After a rough ride he finally made it to his new home where he probably had a good snooze and is now hopefully settled in.”
Marnelle van der Merwe, a spokesperson for Care for Wild Africa — the organization that takes care of animals at the rescue center in Mpumalanga — confirmed that vets were able to resuscitate Donnie.
Van der Merwe later confirmed that Donnie was better and recovering at the center.
“He’s doing very well. He drank all his milk and he’s walking around.”
The spokesperson explained that Donnie would be weaned and released back into the wild after he has recovered his strength.
Experts said that by approaching cars closely, Donnie was exhibiting an animal behavioral pattern called “imprinting,” in which a young animal missing its mother develops attachment to any available object, living or non-living.
The behavior is designed to enhance the survival chances of young, inexperienced animals in the wild. And it works well in situations where the animal imprints with another animal or human that is able to take over the role of motherhood.
Failure to find a substitute mother often means death for young animals in the wild.
The young rhino was named after Don English, the Kruger National Park ranger who helped to rescue him.
Care for Wild Africa specializes in rehabilitating animals rescued from the wild.
[Images: Facebook/Debbie English]