Feeding White Rhino Calves at Mkhaya Game Reserve | Sense Africa

Eswatini / Swaziland

Feeding White Rhino Calves3rd October '16  |  - 4 Comments

I could hear the snuffling, snorting and mewing of the two baby rhino calves anticipating their midnight feed. Needless to say I was a little bit blurry eyed as I staggered downstairs to prepare their formula milk. I imagine it is rather similar to feeding small children except that the quantities are vast! We are talking litres here…

I’d been really lucky as I had been invited to go and stay at Mkhaya Game Reserve in Eswatini and had been “roped” into helping feed a couple of baby white rhino, not the normal thing you get asked to do when someone offers you a bed for the night. 

Why feed the rhino calves?

I arrived in the late afternoon in time to see the rhino have their 6 o’clock feed. They had been born in December 2015, just when the drought had really begun to impact on grazing animals. White rhino are grazers and therefore need lots of grass each day, an enormous amount. Unfortunately, due to lack of grass, the mothers had not been able to lactate. As a result the young calves were removed from the care of their mothers so they could be hand fed.

During the day the rhino roamed freely in a very large enclosure and spent their time in the company of a couple of Emaswati ladies who seemed to be able to expertly control these very boisterous individuals. The first time I saw them I spent 15 minutes hiding behind a tree whilst the small rhino (a small rhino being over 200 kg) cavorted on the other side. I knew very well that I would certainly come off worse if contact was made.

There were also a number of large tractor tyres in the area so that suckers like myself could dive into them for safety. Rhino can not jump, so would not be able to manoeuvre themselves over the tyre. I used the tyres a lot! In the evening the rhinos came in for the night and stayed in a room in the house. A room had been made rhino proof with secure doors, matting on the floor and furniture blocking the door.

baby rhino waiting to be fed

When to feed a baby rhino

These rhino were being fed every three hours around the clock. This was pretty exhausting for everyone concerned, especially those doing the midnight and 3 o’clock feed. And this is where I came in. I was shown how to mix up the formula for each of the rhino. They feeds were slightly different because one calf was male and the other female, they were also different sizes. I was also given instructions on how to sterilise everything before and after feeding.

How to feed a rhino calf

The formulaic milk was made up in 2 litre plastic coke bottles with a teat put on the end. While feeding the two main concerns were to stop the rhino from guzzling the milk too quickly and to prevent them from sucking the teat right off the bottle. So I was shown how to hold the bottle. With my index and second finger wrapped around the teat I could alter the milk flow by pinching the teat and also keep hold of the teat if it got sucked off the bottle. The easiest way to do all of this was to shove your fingers, with teat, into the rhinos mouth!

So there I was at half-past midnight, holding 4 plastic bottles of milk and warm water, listening to the sound of overexcited rhino calves anticipating being fed. As they are rather boisterous and over exuberant in feeding we could lean over chest of drawers blocking the door. When you opened the door you were face-to-face with the chest of drawers and not charging rhino. I could then lean over the barrier and feed the rhino without having my shins fractured.

They were very demanding, probably because they were very hungry, but once the teats were in their mouths they calmed down and were easier to manage. What a wonderful experience being that close to young rhinos, a real privilege to experience this.


After a swift change in bottles and ensuring both rhino finished their feeds at the same time, the youngsters settled down. After I’d finished sterilising bottles and prepared for the 3 o’clock early morning feed, I could hear the gentle snoring of rhino behind the door. Who knew that rhino snored!

I can not wait to get back to Mkhaya and help out with the feeding again. No doubt they will be much larger, more boisterous and over whelming.

There are not many people that can say that they’ve had their fingers sucked by a baby rhino!

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  1. phil says:

    October 4th, 2016 at 10:45 am (#)

    Hi Jenny,
    Loved reading that and what an experience! (was it a dream, cause if the babies were not born until ‘Dec 2016’ then there must be some kind of miracle going on here 🙂 )! x

  2. senseafrica says:

    October 6th, 2016 at 2:50 pm (#)

    Oops, they were born last year… correct, 2015!

  3. glen nelson says:

    October 5th, 2016 at 2:07 pm (#)

    How fabulous to be that close to baby rhino and be a part of their growing process, lucky you and what a privilage.

  4. John says:

    October 5th, 2016 at 7:25 pm (#)

    Hello Jenny,

    Now what do baby rhinos grow into…not a trick question-yes, big rhinos. More to the point, I’ll bet they don’t forget you…so you are a friend for life. Can’t think of anything nicer.

    Lucky you.

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