When a routine patrol in the African bush found an injured rhino calf wandering alone, the outlook was worrying. But the calf's feisty personality and fighting spirit changed her odds for the better.
Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT) monitors were patrolling the Bubye Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe, southern Africa, in July when a lone calf caught their attention.
The roughly 16-month-old female black rhino calf had sustained gunshot wounds to her legs from a heavy-caliber rifle, according to a statement from LRT's partner, the International Rhino Foundation (IRF).
The injured orphan was transported to LRT's site for urgent care. Her wounds were extensive, according to the statement. The rhino trust flew in a specialist vet from the country's capital, Harare, to treat her.
Staffers named her "’Pumpkin,’ for the soothing sound of the word." They used the name to comfort the frightened rhino as she adjusted to her unfamiliar surroundings.
Pumpkin's wounds were cleaned, and she embarked upon a course of antibiotics to stave off infection. She was then transferred into a specially constructed rhino "boma" to recover safely, away from lions and hyenas.
Early on, Pumpkin was so angry at her confinement that she rammed the boma walls, knocking off her front horn. But gradually, she mellowed.
"This little girl had enough personality and fight for three rhinos," said Natasha Anderson, IRF’s Zimbabwe monitoring coordinator.
Pumpkin was given two nutritious meals a day and quickly gained a reputation as a picky patron.
"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," Anderson said.
Pumpkin's favorite trick was to fling her tractor tire "food bowl" into the air to reach the tastiest nuggets at the bottom.
As Pumpkin's wounds healed, so her confidence grew. After six weeks, the calf was ready to brave the wild once again. But she wouldn't need to go it alone. A young male orphaned black rhino named Rocky had taken to visiting Pumpkin during her recovery.
"It is likely that they will join up and live together," Anderson said, "both finding the company they craved at last since tragically losing their mothers to poaching."
Pumpkin was released into a protected area in October and will be monitored. According to the press release, LRT has already spotted signs that Pumpkin and Rocky have been in close proximity.
Nina Fascione, IRF’s executive director, explained that rhinos in Africa need protection if they are to stay safe from poachers. "LRT’s monitoring program is crucial," she said. "If you don’t know exactly how many rhinos are out there, it’s impossible to determine the level of poaching or its impact on protection efforts."
Pumpkin's release counts for one more rhino in the wild. It is hoped that numbers will continue to increase steadily.