Hercules, the 100 kg baby

This is a guest post by Willie for Notes from Africa

In South Africa rhinos have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. The poaching of rhinos for their horns is as tragic as the shark finning story recently featured on this blog. Totally senseless with no significant benefit to anybody, except as an artificially created, highly lucrative and illegal trade.

Hercules with his buddy, the sheep. ©Anna-Marie Retief

Sometimes it is nice to get a good news story about rhinos. I had the privilege of visiting Hercules, the 100kg rhino baby, in his boma (enclosure) where he is recovering from a premature birth and subsequent injuries and infection. Hercules is a two month old white rhino, or also called a “square lipped rhinoceros” (Ceratotherium simum), who was born to a young white rhino pair on a game farm close to Thabazimbi (in Limpopo Province). Because he was born prematurely, his bones were still forming and he had trouble walking. After injuring himself and getting progressively weaker, he was taken away from his parents and was sent to Onderstepoort (a Veterinary Institute and Faculty of Veterinary Science) for specialist attention. At that stage he weighed about 55 kg. With the help of the vets at Onderstepoort, Hercules has recovered sufficiently to be brought back to the farm.

Mixing baby formula for a rhino. ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The sheep retreats to a safe distance before the "feeding frenzy" starts. ©Anna-Marie Retief

Hercules is now well and the scars of the wounds have almost all healed. He is currently gaining more than 1 kg a day and is well on his way to his full grown weight of 2000 to 2300 kg. To do this he drinks about 4 litres of milk (calf’s milk formula with supplements) 4 times a day. He is also on a course of antibiotics to help him recover from the infection.

And he's off . . . ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com


Check out that sucking power! ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

About 5 minutes later, he's almost done! ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Baby rhinos need constant companionship, but because of the care that Hercules needs he cannot be placed back with his parents. So Hercules came back with a buddy to keep him company during his recuperation period. His buddy is a sheep from Onderstepoort – apparently sheep or goats work well as companions for injured baby animals like rhinos (now who figured that out?!). Now the poor sheep is busy adjusting to keeping a baby rhino company and he is starting to understand what his job is. Obviously the sheep did not quite expect to grow up to be one day be looking after and coping with the antics of a baby rhino.

Lisa always said that Rosie (our Staffie) looks like a baby rhino – and it is true – or is it the baby rhino that looks like Rosie. Hercules (like Rosie) has got a good headbutt and you also need to watch out for your shins. He enjoys a good ear rub and is not impressed when you stop rubbing –  so you really need to watch out for that headbutt.

Isn't he a pretty boy? ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Thank you to Anna-Marie and Francois Retief for taking me to the boma and making this story possible.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Guest Bloggers, Nature/Environment, Random


I am a forestry scientist living and working in the Southern Cape, South Africa.


Subscribe to the Notes from Africa RSS and Twitter feeds to receive updates.

31 Comments on “Hercules, the 100 kg baby”

  1. September 16, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    Fascinating — and what a happy ending!! love the photos…

    • Willie
      September 17, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

      Thanks, it was amazing meeting a rhino, even a baby, up close. Although Hercules is now in good health and spirits he is not out of the woods yet. He is getting good care and I hope to get more photos later to see how he is progressing.

  2. September 16, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    Aww… how lovely! :):)

    • Willie
      September 17, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

      Yes isn’t he and he knows that he is cute and is taking full advantage of all the attention.

  3. September 16, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    He is adorable. Very endearing.

    • Willie
      September 17, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

      I have read somewhere that all small people /animals are purposefully engineered to look cute to make sure that they receive a lot of attention. Hercules is like a small toddler, very inquisitive and likes to play. Despite the fact that he is only 2 months old he is quite powerful and he can bruise you easily with his nose.

  4. September 16, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    What a beautiful baby!

    • Willie
      September 17, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

      Yes indeed. Sometimes one forgets that Hercules is still a baby – but he still have a lot of growing to do.

  5. September 17, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    Hercules is quite impressive for a baby! He’s adorable too! I’m sure that he needed a companion and sheep or goats work as they’re herd animals too, and much closer in size, so less likely to hurt him by accident and vice versa.

    • Willie
      September 17, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

      We visited Hercules again today and got to know him a little bit better. His buddy the sheep is still not quite comfortable with the situation. The sheep is a ram and may not have the mothering instincts of a ewe.

  6. September 17, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    Gosh, Willie, this is a fabulous post! I’ve read about the rhino butchering on Jackie’s blog–so tragic. It’s wonderful to have this great story to balance the other. And how great that Hercules has the sheep for a friend!
    Well done!

    • Willie
      September 17, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

      Thanks Kathy. It was a bonus to meet up with Hercules during our visit here. It was such a unique experience to interact with a small rhino that I had to share it with you.

  7. September 17, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    I really enjoyed reading your writings, Willie – thank you for a well-written feel-good story with some great pictures. The sheep is gorgeous! As for Hercules, wow! What an appropriate name!

    • Willie
      September 20, 2011 at 10:08 am #

      Thank you Reggie. It was an easy story to write with such a great subject. I agree that his name was well chosen, this Hercules does not realize how strong he is, even at 2 months!

  8. September 18, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I’ve never seen a baby rhino before — adorable! Great post.

    • Willie
      September 20, 2011 at 10:10 am #

      Hi, thanks – neither have I. It was really funny to see a miniature version of the grownups. Soon Hercules will be too big to interact with, so it was very nice opportunity. Hopefully we can get an update on Hercules from time to time.

  9. Lu
    September 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    What a fantastic story! Hercules looks like a real cutie, although I can only imagine the frenzy at feeding time! I’ve helped milk abandoned lambs before – and they can be quite boisterous when there’s more than one of them in the pen at a time 🙂

    • Willie
      September 20, 2011 at 10:10 am #

      Yes it was a nice story to stumble on. It is a bit messy at feeding time with an enthusiastic baby rhino trying to get all the milk down in record time.

  10. jacquelincangro
    September 19, 2011 at 5:14 am #

    This must have been a great experience, Willie. And the photos are wonderful – as always.
    That poor ram has no idea what he’s in for.
    Do you know if they will be able to release Hercules into the wild or back to the farm when he’s fully recovered?

    • Willie
      September 20, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      Thanks. Yes it was, the texture of Hercules skin is, even for a two month old, like you would expect – a bit like 80 grit sandpaper (quite rough). Hopefully the ram is starting to adjust to the situation by now. My understanding is that the rehabilitation period may be as long as 18 months before Hercules will be allowed to go back to the wild. Mostly this is to make sure that Hercules is big and strong enough to face up to the other rhinos. The concern is that his dad may have problems with another male in the area.

  11. Sarita Botha
    September 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    I want to know what is going to happen to sheep when baby rhino gets to 2300 kg? Surely they will get very fond of each other and wouldn’t want to be separated, but sheep might get hurt when baby rhino isn’t a baby anymore.

    • Willie
      September 20, 2011 at 10:13 am #

      The talk around the campfire is that sheep may not make it very far, especially with Hercules still not knowing quite how big and strong he is. Hopefully they bond early and sheep goes the distance.

  12. September 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    The picture of the retreating goat is my favorite- great story and pics!

    • Willie
      September 20, 2011 at 10:14 am #

      Thanks. Hercules’ buddy (who should have a name by now) is quite agile and can look after himself. He seems to be careful of people as well and was keeping a safe distance from Hercules and his babysitters. A new sturdy boma is being constructed for Hercules and his buddy that should give them more room to operate in.

  13. September 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Great post Willie – is good to see something sweet and kind about rhinos these days. I have linked to your post from my latest blog entry.

    • September 21, 2011 at 11:23 am #

      Thank you. The Hoedspruit action described in your blog is very impressive – it is really nice to see that people are getting pro-active in the fight against poachers.

  14. September 23, 2011 at 6:05 am #

    What an awesome experience for you, Willie! Thanks for sharing Hercules’ story with us. 🙂

    It was nice reading this positive post. I hope you’ll be able to keep us informed of Hercules’ progress.

    • September 28, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      Hi Riekie, thanks it was an unexpected bonus during an already very nice visit. I am working on getting more information and pictures about Hercules, watch this space….

  15. November 24, 2011 at 6:24 am #

    That’s one cute story. The rhino and the sheep being buddy is inspiring!

    • November 24, 2011 at 10:44 am #

      Yes, it’s a real feel-good story isn’t it? That rhino is so cute – looks just like the adults do.

      I don’t know if you saw the update of the story here: http://wp.me/pYuZP-1mX The two of them have toys they play with now.


  1. Hoedspruit takes action against rhino poaching | The Slowvelder - September 20, 2011

    […] “good news” rhino story can be read here on the Notes from Africa […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: