Orphans are not always babies. Once a baby rhino (or any other species with parental care) loses its mother, it will be an orphan for the rest of its life. In the best case scenario, the orphan rhino will be found and rescued, and subsequently taken to a place where experienced staff can take care of him until he recovers from his wounds (physical and psychological) and can be released back into the wild. If not found, it will most probably die of starvation (if younger than 18 months and therefore not yet weaned) or taken by predators.
Lunar and Storm, the two rhinos in these photos, are the oldest orphans at Care for Wild (CFW), the rehabilitation center where the orphan rhino study is taking place. They are just over five years of age, which means that they have probably reached sexual maturity. The faecal samples we are regularly collecting from them will confirm (or refute) this soon. In the case of Lunar, a female, we will test for progesterone concentration in her faeces, a hormone that is not just related to pregnancy, but also to the female oestrus cycle. In the case of the male Storm, we will analyze his faeces to determine his testosterone concentration. Aside from physiological changes, we have been witnessing interesting behavioral changes (especially in Storm) that could be indicative of Lunar’s reproductive stage. Although it is too soon to draw any conclusions, we will hopefully be able to describe these changes over time, once we have accumulated more data.