Development and care of calf

Calving usually occurs during the night or the early hours of the morning. When the calf is born its weight is around 40 kg (Nowak, 1999). Immediately following birth, the new-born calf is usually cleaned by its mother. First standing up will be seen from 15 minutes to one or two hours after birth. A new-born calf may require traction material to help steady itself. Traction materials may include sand, gravel, straw, hay or rubber matting. These additional materials should be added well in advance of calving to give the female time to get used to them.

In all cases, both the dam and calf should be monitored closely but without disturbing them to allow them to bond. Monitoring using closed circuit television equipment may be preferable for a nervous or first time mother. A calf should begin suckling within one to two hours of standing. The mother will nurse the calf standing or lying on her side.

A new-born rhino should be up and walking within approximately one hour after a normal birth. Following a dystocia, or breach birth, the dam may be too exhausted to clean and care for the calf immediately. Similarly, calves weak from a dystocia may also take longer to stand. This, however, does not mean that intervention is necessary. It is advised to keep close monitoring. Suckling should be seen within the first five hours and should be frequent. While sleeping the calf should be with the dam constantly and touching her. A problem is indicated if the calf is seen alone for extended periods, appears weak, or is having trouble keeping up with the dam. If a problem is suspected and the dam and calf can be safely separated, daily weights of the calf should be obtained. Normal daily weight gains are representative of nursing success. When calves are under optimal weight, they should get supplemental bottle feedings. The faeces should be grey or yellowish grey in colour and the consistency of stiff putty. A healthy calf may not have a stool for the first 24 to 48 hours. For all calves with diarrhoea, a faecal sample should be submitted for culture of enteric pathogens and internal parasite screen. Daily observations of the calf’s stamina are important, as its condition may decline rapidly. Any deviation from the normal body temperature of 36.9 -37.8oC is likely an indication of poor health (Gage, 2002).

A Black rhino calf should be separated from the mother between the ages of two and four years. It should not be sooner than 18 months.

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