Soon after the birth, the 24-hour watches stopped, but we still spent our entire workday observing and caring for this greater one-horned rhino duo. It was amazing to see just how quickly a rhino calf develops. After spending the entire first week with Mili after her birth, I was very much in tune with her behavior and could even see very subtle changes and developments.
Initially, her giant ears stayed down close to her head, and she moved quite slowly, still getting used to those brand-new legs. Her main goals in life, as were mother Sundari’s, were to eat and sleep. And with the occasional supplemental bottle, that’s about all she did. Mili would enter the calf area to be weighed every morning while Mom munched away on a snack. Mili still had somewhat uncoordinated movements, stepping the 4 inches up onto the scale, bumping into keepers on her way back down, and just kind of moving slowly everywhere she went.
One day, during the second week of observations, I noticed that Mili was starting to pay more attention to the things around her. Instead of her usual routine of following Mom around, she investigated items that caught her attention. She rubbed her face back and forth on top of some grain that Sundari had clumsily spilled on the ground, trying to figure out what these little, round pellets were. She became distracted by things in her room: an empty food tub, a branch of ficus that Sundari had not devoured yet, or a small scrap of hay. She was obviously more aware of her surroundings, thus more distracted when we tried to get her attention. We were no longer the most interesting thing in her world.
During week three, the 190-pound (86 kilograms) rhino ran around everywhere before skidding to a halt right in front of us, as if showing off her still-awkward legs. Her ears stuck straight up now and moved around searching for sounds, just like her mom’s ears. She was spending more time playing with Sundari, which was mostly Mili playing while Mom was trying to sleep. Also, her mode of moving around went from a slow walk to a run! Some mornings, she would have to get all this playing out of her system before she would drink her bottle. After about 10 minutes, she would surrender, open mouthed and out of breath from running, but ready to eat. Every week marked significant progress in her development.
Jonnie Capiro is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Follow Jonnie’s tweets from the field on the Safari Park’s Twitter feed.