Baby rhino Makhosi gets by with a little help from her friends.
Baby rhino Makhosi (left) gets by with a little help from her friends. (Photo: Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage)

A newborn rhino is on the road to recovery thanks to the quick action of a wildlife rescue organization and the moral support of an adorable new friend.

It all started when staff at the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa received an emergency call about a struggling rhino calf in Pongola. After grabbing their emergency kits and rushing out to the scene, the staff discovered the calf was so small and weak it couldn't even reach its mother's teat.

"[It was] so weak it wouldn't survive the night," rhino rehabilitation specialist Karen Trendler explains. "The calf [had a] very low birth weight and size possibly due to drought or a placental problem with the mom — fortunately she is OK and still in the wild."

A weak and exhausted Makhosi is seen loaded up in the back of the rescue vehicle.
A weak and exhausted Makhosi is seen loaded up in the back of the rescue vehicle. (Photo: Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage)

The little rhino's first night at the orphanage was tough — the calf just couldn't seem to get settled. That's when Trendler decided to take a chance and lift the barrier that was separating the rhino and a newborn hippo calf named Charlie, who arrived at the orphanage a week earlier after being abandoned by his pod. Much to the delight of staff, the pair bonded immediately and have since become inseparable.

This is encouraging news since returning the rhino, named Makhosi, to her mother is not an option.

"The mothers milk will dry up quite quickly without the calf suckling and the calf will need milk for a long time," Trendler writes. "The bond between cow and calf involves participation from both parties and grows and strengthens over time. As this calf was already weak, [the] mother was already losing interest."

Charlie and Makhosi step outside to enjoy the sun.
Charlie and Makhosi step outside to enjoy the sun. (Photo: Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage)

Thankfully, Makhosi and Charlie's attachment to each other, which Trendler describes as "the funniest of friendships," is working wonders for their respective recovery processes. Makhosi, in particular, is already seeing improvements after just a couple days, though she is still not out of the woods.

"Makhosi is doing really well considering that she didn't suckle at all from the mother and thus did not receive colostrum (the first milk that contains vital immunoglobins and nutrients)," Trendler explains. "For such a tiny tot, she has huge attitude — demanding food with a high pitched squeal and thumping my legs when the bottle finishes."

Karen Trendler spends quality outdoor time with Makhosi and Charlie.
Karen Trendler spends quality outdoor time with Makhosi and Charlie. (Photo: Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage)

As the pint-sized pair continue to gain weight and strength, the staff at Thula Thula are doing what they can to enrich their lives, including setting up an enclosure for them to romp around in.

If you'd like to follow Makhosi and Charlie's journey or make a donation that directly benefits the rescue of endangered animals, follow the organization on Facebook.

The pair aren't out of the woods yet, but the Thula Thula team are keeping a careful eye.
The pair aren't out of the woods yet, but the Thula Thula team are keeping a careful eye. (Photo: Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage)

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.