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13 Jul, 2024
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the big babies

The Big Babies!!!- Article by Gareth Jones

The Big Babies Of Nairobi National Park

As we drove around a bend in the road, a female white rhino and her calf were quite close to the road. We stopped and observed them for a while, as we sat in complete silence so the rhinos seemed to relax. While ‘mom’ continued to feed on the lush green grass, the little baby was quite quizzy and wandered towards our vehicle, and then suddenly lost the bravado and ran back to the relative safety behind “mom”. After some time, we were treated to watch the calf suckling a midday milky meal, soon after that, both “mom” and “baby” lay down very peacefully in the long grass and fell asleep, no doubt lulled into dozing by the warmth of the sun breaking through the clouds.

On another special occasion a few years ago, I drove through the park late one afternoon after a good shower of rain, I noticed some movement in the small stream “lugga” in a valley. Wow! It was a white rhino with a small calf enjoying a wonderful mudbath in the nice sloshy puddle. I turned off the main road and onto one of the tracks to hopefully get a better view. As I watched through my binoculars, the little baby almost comically copied his mother by rolling in the mud with all four legs in the air. I sat for some time watching them as they peacefully bathed in the mud. Then the mother suddenly decided that the bathing time was over, and began to move away from the sloshy mud patch.

As I sat quietly, the rhinos began to walk towards where I was parked. They approached quite quickly as their muddy wet bodies glistened in the late afternoon sunlight. Then as if “mom” said “go play now!” the little one started playing. No doubt the cool fresh air and the muddy moments appeared to stimulate the baby rhino to seemingly have endless energy. The baby began to run and run and run, all-around “mom” almost as if the legs had only just realized they could….RUN!! As I watched and gladly took photos of the joyful moments, I silently cheered in my mind “RUN BABY RUN!” The enthusiasm of the tiny baby was such that even “mom” seemed to forget that she was an adult for a short time, as she joined in the fun and played with her baby. As the late afternoon ended a beautiful rainbow crossed the skyline, and I drove away as the rhinos moved into the long grass and over the horizon.

Females reach sexual maturity at 6–7 years of age while males reach sexual maturity between 10–12 years of age. The gestation period of a white rhino is 16 months. Wow! 16 months is a very long time to spend developing inside “mom”! And just a single calf is born, usually weighing between 40 and 65 kg, these big babies will eventually weigh over 2 tons if they are males. Calves are unsteady for their first two to three days of life. When threatened, the baby will run in front of their protective “mom”, who will vigorously fight for the baby. Weaning starts at two months, but the calf may continue suckling for over 12 months. Before giving birth, the mother will ensure that her current calf is no longer dependant on her. Adult white rhinos have no natural predators (other than humans) due to their size, and even young rhinos are rarely attacked or preyed on due to the mother’s presence and their tough skin.

It is a rare and wonderful moment to be able to observe and feel the free and wild mood of the white rhinos. I contrasted this special moment with the sober reality of the cruel world we live in. How could any sane-minded person want to slaughter such gentle giants? And even slaughter them just because some crazy insane person spread a stupid idiotic rumour that the horns of all rhino have properties that stimulate male sexual libido? It has been proven that rhino horns have almost exactly the same biological composition as human fingernails!!! Last time I checked, the act of human males chewing fingernails had ZERO effect on sexual libido!! And yet rhinos continue to be slaughtered throughout Africa & Asia. Pray that God will raise up many wildlife warriors to stop the slaughter, and also that the truth be told as people in the demand/supply nations especially, so that educated people make educated decisions. Pray that the national laws be changed in all demand/supply nations such that poaching will simply stop, as the payment income ends.

An exciting event took place on the 26th August 2009 when 10 White Rhino were successfully translocated to Nairobi from Lake Nakuru National Park. By an amazing coincidence I just happened to be near the Hyena dam just after 18h00 on the evening of the first release, it was a fantastic sight to witness as the first white rhino stepped out of the transport crate. I was also very fortunate to see the first white rhino calf born shortly after their arrival, the mother & calf have settled into life in Nairobi. Actually the White rhinos now in Lake Nakuru National Park were originally stocked from Solio Ranch and the initial white rhinos at Solio Ranch originally from South Africa. So maybe the Nairobi National Park rhinos speak “rhinese” with a slight South African accent? It should be noted that the southern white rhino now found in Kenya never occurred naturally in East Africa, they were introduced into Kenya during the 1970s and much later into Uganda.

White Rhino are different from Black Rhino in a number of ways, firstly white rhino are considerably larger but more placid than the temperamental and often aggressive black rhino. White Rhino are grass grazers while black rhino eat off scrubs and plants. There is absolutely no colour difference in the two sub-species, the White Rhino gets its name from the dutch (Afrikaans) “Wyd” meaning wide, due to their square mouths designed for grazing, the black rhino just became the opposite colour of white. The Nairobi Park has a healthy population of over 50 Black Rhino and about 15 White Rhino.

If you are looking for somewhere to go to “escape the maddening crowd”, then the Nairobi Park is such a place. Awake early, drive slowly, relax and let nature come to you and take time to sit and watch species like the white rhino. I hope and pray that future generations will have the awesome privilege to also observe rhinos in the wild, and maybe also enjoy watching a “run baby run” moment or just watch the big babies in the wild!


big babies
Gareth Jones – Nairobi Park Diary – A passionate writer & photographer