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Meet Elvis - One of the Hand-Reared Black Rhinos on Lewa

September 30, 2010

For the weather on the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to feel similar to that of the Scottish Highlands is pretty unusual, I think you would agree. However, this last rainy season brought high winds, rolling fogs and night-time rainstorms.

Evenings on Lewa usually consist of the big cats out stalking their pray and plains game grazing out in the open.  And, when it gets cooler, visitors being guided around in large open landcruisers or sitting on top of hills known as “sundowner spots” taking in the incredible views and waiting for the legendary African Sunset.

But on a particular cold and stormy evening back in April, there was not an animal to be seen apart from one old Grevy's zebra, with his bum turned against the wind, tail tucked in firmly, ears flat back and an expression of pure disgust on his face. Visitors and residents would have been huddled around cosy fireplaces, looking at animals in books instead of in the flesh. Weather like this is only favourable for the settling of dust, the filling of dams and the green grass it produces, but the deliverance of it all is not to be desired by all on Lewa, least of all the wildlife.

For one particular couple living on the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, the night was about to get very interesting. At 2AM the storm was in full swing, trees were falling down, rain was leaking into the house and pounding the roof with great force, windows rattled and lightning lit up the room and was followed by deafening cracks of thunder.

Suddenly the bedroom door was being pounded upon violently and with some serious force, enough to crack the walls and splinter its wooden frame. This was what horror movies were made of and the occupants were so startled they evacuated the bed with efficiency and ran to the furthest point of the room looking for weapons to subdue their attacker. After shouting “who's there?” several times and not getting a response, the braver one of the two crept his way to the window closest to the door, using a handy hockey stick, the curtain was peeled back slowly. At first it was difficult to make out this large round mass pushed up against part of the window and the door, it was not until a cloud of mist appeared on the window glass that it became apparent who it was – Elvis!

Elvis and his “little” sister Lola had sought refuge from the rain on the porch. In the process Lola had flattened a large table and come to rest on top of it for the night. Elvis had decided to have a little scratch up against the door before settling down with his head on the step in front of the bedroom door. For the rest of the night, Lola and Elvis slept peacefully on the porch out of the wind and rain, but for the human occupants lying meters away in their bed, separated by a narrow pain of glass and an inch thick wall, it was a noisy, unforgettable night. What a privilege that must have been to have had such an endangered and rare animal, destroying and sleeping on your porch! Fabulous.

Elvis is one of Lewa’s hand-reared black rhino. His mother is called Mawingo and is sadly blind; she cannot keep her calves for very long before losing them. When a calf is born, Lewa deploys a small unit of rangers to watch her like hawks day and night until it is evident that the calf is lost. They then scoop up the baby rhino and hand it over to a well-trained “foster parent” who will now live with, feed and hand-raise the rhino until it is old enough to be introduced into the wild. This is a long process and in the case of Elvis, it was not until he was four years old that he was denied access to his "boma" (or shelter) and encouraged to roam on his own. Of course, he was not alone for the first part of this introduction to wild living, his younger sister Lola was by his side day and night. That night on the porch would not be their first visit to residents on Lewa and the table was not the only piece of household furniture known to be flattened by Lola’s immense and ever increasing belly.

Lola was recently relocated to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy where she has settled in extremely well. Elvis has gotten over his apparent blues due to the absence of his sister and appears to be doing well on his own. The frequent ransacking of porches and gardens has reduced, especially now that the rains have long gone and the nights are dryer and warmer. However, the occasional report of damages from some residents still takes place. It seems Elvis cannot resist the temptation to have a good scratch along a nice looking piece of furniture if he finds one. He has learnt how to drink out of a tap at the Headquarters and is a great distraction to all those bogged down with the never-ending paperwork that comes with the everyday running of the Conservancy.  Knowing humans as well as he does and not having much fear of them, encourages his occasional disruptive behaviour and he has become notorious for midnight visits. Of course the larger he gets, the more dangerous he could become, with this in mind, the team at Lewa has begun devising the next phase of his journey in becoming an independent rhino.

We will be sure to keep you updated on his progress.