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Welcoming A (Not So) Tiny Girl Into This World

“I hope it’s going to be tonight, or tomorrow night.”

That’s what I kept on telling people whenever they asked when Ratu, the pregnant Sumatran rhino, would give birth. Based on calculation from Ratu’s gestation period of Andatu (Ratu’s first calf), she was due last week but there was still no obvious sign of when she would deliver the calf, so all we could do was to wait and see, apart from ultrasound-ing her every few days.

We didn’t sleep well in the last week, worried that Ratu would give birth any night and I had spent some nights going to bed at 2 a.m and waking up at 6.30 a.m only to monitor her condition. However, last week I had a hunch that she would give birth later that night so I took a nap. It was also an educated guess because she showed some behavioral change. So I took a two-hour nap hoping to see a Sumatran rhino calf that night, but unfortunately the pregnant mother changed her mind and wanted to keep her baby inside for a little bit more. That night, I couldn’t sleep and stayed awake watching a rhino sleep soundly through the night. Tricky girl!

Days went by, she was getting more and more restless, and so were we! We were hoping every single day that the calf would be born that night. I communicated with her and did a couple of BodyTalk sessions, only to find out that she did not feel safe with bright lights surrounding her forested enclosure (there were a couple of floodlights installed). I tried to address this issue but some of the staff insisted that the lights were needed. A couple of BodyTalk sessions really calmed her down though, and addressed some of her stress resulted from human’s fear.

Then yesterday, I got another hunch. This one was merely a hunch and there was no educated guess. I successfully took a three-hour nap yesterday afternoon (a piece of cake if you haven’t had enough sleep in the last 6 days) and thought if Ratu was not going to give birth that night or the following morning, I’d spend another sleepless night watching her sleeping and wallowing in the mud – the last thing I wanted to do that night. Well, it was around midnight and Ratu seemed to be restless and sleeping less, so I thought that was a good sign … before she slept again and there was no sign of labor (again! She tricked me twice, that girl!). I waited and waited and waited for almost 3 hours, and she was still sleeping. I started feeling frustrated because of the floodlights, I did not know why but I guess that was a mirror of Ratu’s frustration that I felt. At 3 a.m I was getting sleepy and finally decided to give up, but before going to bed I uploaded a silly picture/status on my Instagram, showing how frustrated I am waiting for Ratu’s calf every night.

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Just after the picture was uploaded, Ratu decided to wake up and walked around her enclosure. I decided to wait a little bit more, but she went behind a big tree and stayed there. It was dark (probably the darkest site where she could avoid the floodlights) and I could not see a thing. I was about to give up again when I heard report that her water broke and there were signs of first stage labor! I was so excited and all the sleepiness suddenly evaporated into thin air!

No words can describe how precious the moments are. From the moment when the calf’s hind legs emerged (it was posterior longitudinal presentation, video here), followed by her small body and head covered in hair, to the moment she started to stand up, fell, stood up again, until finally made her first few steps in this world!! Nature is incredibly amazing, especially when we see an animal birth, they just knew what to do from the very second they are born into this world, without being told or taught by anyone of what they should do. They just knew instinctively. Ratu did not touch her calf for the first couple of hours, and I guessed it was to encourage the calf to stand up and walk towards her to suckle. If she had approached the calf, the calf would not have tried to stand up and walk while it was vital for the calf to use her muscles immediately.

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Within less than an hour, the calf really did her best at standing up on her four feet for the first time. It took her less than an an hour and a half to start taking small baby steps, and within 3 hours after birth she had already started suckling. It was funny to see her sniffing Ratu’s belly randomly searching for the teats, not sure where to locate them.

Kudos to the new vet team at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary! Read more about the birth on IRF’s official press release here.

adinda suckle

So adorable.

So amazing.

So priceless.

Thank you Mother Earth. I hope we, the minority of humans, can continue to preserve the nature while the majority of us are destroying it, even though we are all guilty for that.

PS. I haven’t slept all night as I’m typing this post. Forgive me for a boring-and-not-so-lively story and awful grammar, but I do hope you enjoy the story 🙂

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The first wefie! I don’t want to disturb the 3 hours old calf so in this case a CCTV wefie works fine as well 🙂

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Feels Like Home

Around 6 a.m this morning I opened my eyes, saw sun rays penetrated my room through a safari patterned curtain covering my windows, heard the trickling sound of gentle rain, checked my watch, then grabbed my blanket and went back to sleep. I’m not a morning person (unless if morning person means they sleep in the morning, ha!) so waking up before 8 a.m is not easy for me, and the rain did not make it any easier. Half an hour later my alarm rang, so I forced myself to wake up after pressing the snooze button a couple of times.

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I took a deep breath, took a large amount of fresh air with the smell of the jungle to fill my lungs. Birds had started chirping since sunrise, with cicadas joining their jungle orchestra them as well. Every now and then I heard rustling leaves as the long tailed and pig tailed macaques jumped from branch to branch, ready to start their day. And what were those animals calling each other so loudly? They were really loud, with both ululating and bitonal screams. Oh, right, of course the siamang! I almost forgot that I’m back in the Sumatran wilderness. How I missed the jungle! But my day is not complete yet without seeing my hairy kids.

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Flying (swinging) siamang in action

I went to see the hairy rhinos accompanied by SRS’ current veterinarian, Dr. Made Fera. We started with Harapan, the newest resident at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary who was born in Cincinnati Zoo in April 2007 and brought back to Indonesia in November 2015. I almost fell in love instantly with him! Weighed about 780 kg (1,720 pounds), Harapan showed gentle gestures toward his keepers though sometimes he tried to chase them too. For a wildlife that was born and raised in captivity, he was doing quite well in his new home. It was Harapan’s birthday too so we helped him celebrate by making a simple ‘cake’ made of his favorite fruits and vegetables.

 

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I know I know, the cake doesn’t have its shape anymore, but at least Harapan enjoys it.

Next, we met Andatu in his stall. Andatu, my first ‘grandson’ from his mother Ratu and his father Andalas, was born in June 2012 when I was still working at SRS as a full time vet. He weighed only 25 kg (55 pounds) when he was born, but look at him now! I barely recognized him, especially now that he has two rhino horns instead of a flat nose that he had when he came into this world. More update about Andatu is coming soon.

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The few days old Andatu (June 2012)

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The few years old Andatu (April 2016)

After Andatu, we went to greet Andalas. Andalas is Andatu’s father who was born in Cincinnati Zoo in September 2001 and brought back to Indonesia in 2007. He was the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity. His birth sparked a big hope to breed the critically endangered species in captivity to eventually prevent them from extinction. Nothing has changed much since I saw him last. He’s still a big boy who enjoys his time in the stall, spending as much time with his keeper as possible. Such a cute boy, but hey, he’ll be a father of two real soon!

Inside Andalas’ paddock, believe or not, out of millions of trees in Way Kambas National Park, I have a favorite tree. There’s this one particular tree that strongly caught my attention. I sometimes do grounding under this tree, but recently there has been an insect nest growing at the nest so I did not dare to go closer this time.

Then, we moved to see Rosa, the most beautiful Sumatran rhino I’ve ever seen and everyone agrees. If you try to find wild Sumatran rhino pictures online, most likely you’ll end up with Rosa’s pictures (in addition to Ratu’s and Andatu’s). She’s like the supermodel in Sumatran rhino world, but a few years ago her beauty was quickly defeated by the cuteness of a newborn star – Andatu.

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Rosa, the supermodel, enjoying her fruit feast

Then we visited Bina in her stall. I’m not going to lie, she’s my favorite rhino so far. She has a reputation of being shy and unpredictable but she captured my heart with her captivating eyes nevertheless. She was one of the first rhinos that were captured in the late 1980s to early 1990s and she’s the only survivor till today. That makes her the oldest Sumatran rhino in captivity, aged about 29-30 years old. I don’t know why, but I feel very connected to her. I feel she always has a kind of ancient wisdom to share with us humans.

We were hoping to see Ratu the pregnant mother, but that morning she decided not to say hi to me in the stall. Maybe we’ll meet tomorrow to check her and her baby conditions. If you’d like to see how she’s doing so far you can read this post here and follow IRF’s blog for future updates.

Which rhino would you like to meet most? Did you know you also can adopt them as your hairy kids? Check their pictures and individual profiles here.

 

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Expecting My Second Grandchild in The Jungle

I left that place almost three years ago. I cried in the car as my ex-field manager drove me to the local airport. One son, three daughters, and a grandson were left behind. No, I’m not talking about furry kids here, not scaly ones, not even feathery ones. I’m talking about hairy kids. I took care four hairy kids since early 2012 when I was working at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. Yep, they are Sumatran rhinos, or also known as hairy rhinos.

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In June 2012, one of my kids, Ratu, gave birth to Andatu, the first Sumatran rhino calf born in Asia in the last 124 years. He was an instant celebrity and gained thousands of fans worldwide, but he really deserved it. He was the cutest Sumatran rhino calf ever recorded! My heart melted almost immediately when I saw him standing up and taking the first tiny step in life. Come on, look at his cute face below and tell me if you think he’s not cute.

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Last year, we’ve heard that Ratu was expecting the second calf, and that Andatu is going to be a big brother! Of course everyone is happy with the news. I could only pray that the second calf delivery will be as smooth as the first one. I could not be there to watch it, even though I hoped to see the baby after it was born. Last Monday, the field manager called me and asked for my help with the second birth. Can you believe it? My heart almost jumped from joy and excitement! I feel very honored to be given the chance to assist with the birth of my second grandchild 😀

It was a sudden notice, so I only had a day to pack and prepare before leaving early morning the next day. Seven hours car drive and three hours ferry ride it was, but I was so excited to see all my hairy kids again! And oh, Andatu’s uncle, Harapan, was brought back to Sumatra from United States in November last year, so I’ll have the chance to meet him too in this trip. My mind was filled with curiosity, wondering how his personality was, if he was adapting well in the jungle after spending years of living in Cincinnati Zoo, if he shared similar characteristics with Andalas, and so on.

After the exhausting ten-hour journey finally I was there again, back to where my kids are, but it was already late at night when I arrived. Only darkness and cricket chirps greeted me, followed by the same staff who are still taking care of the rhinos. Now it’s time to sleep, and let’s explore the jungle once again tomorrow.

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Welcome Home, Harry!

A mixed of emotions came into my mind as I was reading the news about relocation of Harapan (Harry), the last Sumatran rhino currently lives in Cincinnati Zoo, to his natural habitat in Indonesia.

The extinct woolly rhino, closely related to Sumatran rhino. Source: dinopedia.wikia.com

The extinct woolly rhino, closely related to Sumatran rhino. Source: dinopedia.wikia.com

Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is the only extant descendant of Ice Age woolly rhinos (Coelodonta antiquitatis) which is now faced with extinction due to habitat loss with 50% of the population disappear every 10 years – a very fast pace for a species to go into extinction. In 2015 it is estimated that there are only less than 100 wild individuals of Sumatran rhinos left in the wild, in heavily fragmented populations in Sumatra and (maybe) Borneo.

Earlier this week week, it is officially announced that Sumatran rhino is declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia. This is a very devastating moment for Sumatran rhino conservationists, and pressure is now put on Indonesia’s side to continue to preserve this species.

In captivity, there are currently nine Sumatran rhinos: three in Sabah, Malaysia; one in Cincinnati, which will leave for Indonesia soon; and five in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), Indonesia. There are two males in the SRS facilities and they are both related to Harry. Andalas, the only productive male in SRS for the time being, is Harry’s older brother, and Andatu, currently still 3 year old and is not sexually mature yet, is Andalas’ son and Harry’s nephew.

Even though Harry’s homecoming brings hope for the species, the gene pool of captive Sumatran rhinos are small and they all face inbreeding unless a new male Sumatran rhino is captured – a controversial idea remembering almost 90% of over 40 Sumatran rhinos that were captured in the 1990s died within the same year. But that was in 1990s, when very little information was known how to rear Sumatran rhinos in captivity, when nobody knew what they eat and ended up giving them wrong diets. Now everything has changed. Now we know there are over 200 plant species which are edible for Sumatran rhinos. Now we know the behavior of Sumatran rhinos in the wild. Now we know the breeding cycle of the Sumatran rhinos. And until today, there have been four Sumatran rhino calves born in captivity with the help of science and research.

Bina, the only survivor from the 1990s capture. She now lives in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, Indonesia.

Bina, the only survivor from the 1990s capture. She now lives in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, Indonesia. Photo courtesy: Eliza Jinata/Holiztic Vet.

Another alternative to enrich the gene pool is to involve Kretam (Tam), the male Sumatran rhino in Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) in Sabah, Malaysia, in captive breeding program, but until the political issues are put aside between the nations, this is not a solution in the meantime.

We are racing with time here, and I hope any political issues can be put aside to save this primitive species from extinction.