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The Gift of Life & the Unfortunate Death of a Baby Rhino

Baby Iphi @ Thula Thula


In October this year, Thula Thula received wonderful news from their rangers that a new baby rhino calf had been spotted. She had been spotted with Ntombi, her mother. Iphi's father is thought to be the rhino Rambo, a relatively new bull rhino introduced to the game reserve nearly two years ago. The new baby was named Iphi, the Zulu word for 'where', because they had trouble finding her in the thicket. It was also a homage to the popular Zulu song "Iphi Ntombi" or "Where is the girl?".


Baby Iphi was very cute. She had big ears and wobbly legs, and could be seen scampering around her mother, and even nursing greedily.

Baby Iphi's First Two Weeks @ Thula Thula


Not only was her birth emotionally special, as Thula Thula's rhino herd had finally been able to grow, but it was also a testament to conservation science. Ntombi was an orphan rhino, like most that are adopted by Thula Thula. Rhinos who have been orphaned, tend to be infertile. It is thought that the trauma from watching their mother die a brutal death (usually at the hands of poachers), psychologically scars them and shuts down their systems for reproduction. For many of these rhinos, ovulation cycles never kick in. This was why the rhino family at Thula Thula failed to grow, despite a healthy herd size of four, with a breeding age male and two breeding age females.


To solve this problem, Francoise Malby-Anthony consulted Dr. Morné de la Rey, a renowned veterinary surgeon and embryo transfer specialist. Through his scientific fertility treatment, he managed to restart the reproduction cycle of Ntombi. If you want to learn more about this process, please check out the interview I did with him here. The birth of Iphi is proof that his methods worked, and the Thula Thula team and I were ecstatic.


Dr. Morné de la Rey


Ntombi fertility treatment


A few weeks after Iphi's birth, Thula Thula, and many parts of Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa were hit with torrential rains. This is common during this season, and isn't usually a problem for most animals at the reserve. However, heavy rains can be deadly to newborn calves across species, who haven't yet built the immunity to withstand the wet and cold. Very unfortunately, Iphi, and several other calves in the region did not survive the rains. After the Thula Thula team conducted an autopsy, it was found that Iphi had died of pneumonia.


The sudden death of Iphi is sad, but her story is stilled filled with hope. It is easy to focus on the negatives, but Iphi's life proved that with the help of medical science, the Thula Thula rhino herd can still grow, contributing towards important conservation of a highly endangered species. At the end of the day, conservation is about preserving nature, and nature is unpredictable. It is what you make out of Iphi's story that will make you give up on conservation, or propel your conservation efforts forward with even more vigor.


I want to thank my supporters for making it possible for me to adopt Iphi as soon as she was born, even if her life was very short. This story is about both the miracle of birth and a tragic, premature, but thankfully natural death. My heartfelt condolences go out to the animals and people of Thula Thula. I hope they will see the hope more than the tragedy in this story, and the journey of conservation will go on.

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