Thandi’s Calves: The Rhinos Who Should Never Have Been Born

Thandi is a walking miracle who truly should not be here. In 2012, she and two male Rhinos were viciously attacked and poached, leaving them in a pool of blood. When found, one male had already died and rescuers were not sure they would be able to save the remaining male Themba or Thandi.

Dr Will Fowlds Treats Thandi After The Poacher’s Attack

Unfortunately, after three weeks of care, Themba fell victim to his brutal attack and took one last drink from the pool of water. The sheer sadness the rescuer felt after this death would break down the coldest of hearts!

Fortunately, Thandi was a survivor and was able to overcome her mortal wound and go on living. As rescuers continued to help her, she slowly recovered, touching lives all over the world.

Nearly three years after surviving the brutal poaching Thandi gave birth to a calf on 13 January 2015 at Kariega Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

A Rhino as symbolically special as this one deserved a name to match, and the little calf has just been given a very fitting moniker: ‘Thembi’, which means ‘hope’ in the Xhosa language, one of the official languages of South Africa.

“The name Thembi seemed to fit best given that this little calf has brought fresh hope and energy to those who struggle to secure the future of our Rhino. She is a new generation of life, one I hope will never experience a poaching incident like her mother did” says Dr William Fowlds, one of the vets involved in Thandi’s incredible recovery.


He adds: “Thandi has changed my life. I can’t say it is for the better, as I could never wish to fight a war such as this one but she has inspired action in myself, and many around me. She now celebrates life, and with it the hope that against all odds, we can and we will overcome the massive challenges that threaten the Rhino.”

And then…………

In January 2017 Thembi stepped out without her mother, everyone at Kariega Game Reserve became a little anxious and worried – they thought Thandi had been hit a second time by poachers.

Then something magical happened.

Medivet Saving the Rhino Project Coordinator, Dr William Fowlds, spoke about the moment that had everyone all well up with tears.

“Kariega started to get worried as Thandi had disappeared for a number of days (which can happen), so they asked me to come and fly my drone to help find her and make sure no harm had come to her. This was the main thing on our minds – to make sure she was alive and not in any trouble.

I met a team at Kariega and we set out flying the area where she goes when she feels threatened or needs to hide away for a while. The wind was gusting badly, which made the search very tricky and by the time flying was reasonably safe, we only had an hour of good light left.

An hour later and there was still no sign of Thandi, but we had seen the rest of her crash, including Thembi. To cover large areas with an aerial camera, you need to fly quite high (80 metres) which also means that even a rhino becomes a spec on a screen and very tricky to spot, even in good light. It’s therefore essential to have a very good camera to record footage but even more important to have a quality screen with excellent resolution to maximise the chance of finding her in real-time.

Fortunately, thanks to Medivet – who sponsored the iPad that I use with the drone – and having the camera set to maximum light sensitivity, we were able to fly for an extra ten minutes after all useful light seems to have gone.

And what a momentous ten minutes it turned out to be! The final sweep back across very dense thicket vegetation on the way back to our home point, the faintest outline of a rhino rolled onto our iPad screen. I could hardly believe my eyes! We found Thandi. At that height. In that light. We could even see if she was dead or alive!

I dropped the drone to 50 metres above her and to our relief, she shifted her body position confirming that she was alive. That in itself was an amazing feeling, knowing that this very special rhino was at least moving around. But we still didn’t know why she had disappeared into the dense thicket.

The drone hovered over her and we stared into that screen, anxious for an explanation. And then suddenly, there he was! From under Thandi’s neck area, out popped the tiniest rhino miniature and we were elated.

What an amazing and wonderful surprise! The gift of a rhino baby delivered by one of the world’s most endearing rhino icons, Thandi. The very fact that this rhino who was severely hacked and left to die five years ago, and who survived against all odds was found, a needle in a haystack, alive and with a toddler at foot.

But there was more good news to come. What happened next wiped away our remaining fears that this baby may be weak or in some sort of trouble. As we watched from above, taking snaps from the iPad, this little bundle began to bump and nuzzle up against Thandi’s pendulous tummy. So small that he couldn’t even reach her udder to feed. His amazing mum responded by sitting down and then lying slightly turned to one side and moved her back leg out to the side, creating a little cove into which this little babe could move and start to feed.

We circled around this scene, absolutely thrilled by what we saw and elated at this incredibly good news. Later that week, when Daniel from Kariega was able to video the two of them in a road-way, we confirmed that he was a baby rhino boy and he was immediately named Colin. This event is so special in so many ways. The founder of this reserve, Colin Rushmere, passed away only days before we found this baby boy and it is very fitting that this special baby boy be named after someone who was such a visionary and a much-loved member of the community”.

May he live a long, safe and happy life, just as his name sake Colin Rushmere had done, and become the father of many.”

Why the name Colin?

The birth of the then unnamed calf came at a time when family and friends were mourning the death of Kariega Game Reserve founder Colin Rushmere 10 days earlier.

Rushmere’s son, Mark, said they had not known Thandi was pregnant when she disappeared and feared she might have been hit a second time by poachers.

“For all we know, the calf was born on the same day dad [Colin] died,” he said.

“We could not find her for a while and were worried. It is all very symbolic.”

Mark said they found out that Thandi had a second calf the day before his father’s funeral, after renowned wildlife vet Dr Will Fowlds sent up a drone to try and locate her.

“The news lifted the mood of the family and we all smiled. It was fantastic and the timing was unbelievable,” he said.

Rushmere, 79, was an Eastern Province cricketer and Mark followed in his footsteps in the provincial team and also turned out for South Africa.

He originally bought 660ha of land on the Kariega River in 1989 and turned it into a 10 000ha mega-park.

Although the sex of the baby rhino has still not been established, Mark said staff and friends were insisting that it be called Colin if it is a male.

Family friend Bronwen d’Oliveira said yesterday everybody was beaming with delight after hearing that Thandi had a second calf.

“Everybody is blown away by the timing. The birth was just so unexpected,” she said.

“Colin’s passing and Thandi’s calf ties everything together very nicely – his vision saved her and then this happens.”

Thandi has given birth to a further three healthy calves.

Mthetho: Born 03 April 2019. Credit: Daniel Haesslich

The Meaning Of Mthetho 

The meaning of the name Mthetho is significant. Many Kariega staff members attended court proceedings at the Grahamstown High Court and were waiting for the day of justice. The Ndlovu Gang were suspected to have committed the triple poaching at Kariega on 2 March 2012, when Thandi, Themba and bull 84, where brutally attacked. Bull 84, died on the night of the attack; Themba died 24 days later from injuries sustained during the attack and Thandi survived.  The sentencing of this gang was a sensitive topic for us all.

There was a huge sense of relief when the Ndlovu Gang were found guilty of 55 wildlife crimes including the poaching of over 100 rhinos. The Kariega team aptly named Thandi’s third calf,  Mthetho, meaning justice in the local language IsiXhosa. Justice was served and Mthetho would remind us always of this moment!

Siya: Born 04 January 2021. Credit: Kariega Game Reserve

In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, Thandi gifted us with a much needed beacon of hope and birthed her fourth calf. We named this calf Siya, after Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi. Siya is an abbreviation of Siyamthanda, which means ‘we love him’ in isiXhosa.

Zolani: Born April 2023 Credit: Kariega Game Reserve

The name Zolani means calm, loving, and free-spirited, and was chosen to honour a guide who tragically passed away.

The birth of Thandi’s fifth calf is another chapter in the incredible legacy of this magnificent rhino. A legacy that still inspires and motivates us to work harder and do better not only for our rhinos, but the entire natural world.

Further Viewing

Wilderness Foundation Medivet Project:

Rhino Horn Is Not Medicine:

Kariega Game Reserve:

Dr William Fowlds Info:

Forever Wild Rhino Protection Initiative: