Sabi Sands Photographic Safari

A melancholy moment between a rhino and a zebra foal

Written by: Roel van Muiden of RvM Wildlife Photography

I was out on an afternoon game drive at Madikwe Game Reserve, seeing what one of the dams had to offer. Upon arriving at the dam there were several rhinos interacting with each other. A male was chasing some females and then being chased away so it took me awhile to notice the tiny zebra foal stuck in the mud. The herd was nowhere in sight so the foal must have been there for quite some time.


The rhino bull, after being rebuffed by the cows numerous times, made his way down to the water and near to the muddy patch the foal was stuck in. The rhino started to prod the zebra with his horn out of curiosity. After a while he grew impatient and lifted the body out. The foal, still being alive but very weak, could only lift its head out of the mud. The rhino lifted the foal so quickly that it had no time to react. The rhino then dropped the foal and moved off.


He then came back for another prod and look-see. This time he lifted the zebra in a different position and his horn disemboweled the foal. Finally, after dropping the zebra again, the bull laid in the mud to roll around and almost crushed the baby zebra.

rhino-and-zebra-foal bull-rhino-and-zebra-foal rhino-and-zebra-foal-madikwe

In situations like this many things go through your mind. First you have to let nature be nature. I have had many comments from people seeing the photo(s) asking why I did not retrieve the foal from the mud. The zebra’s herd was gone so even if I could have/would have, he would not have survived as his mother and harem were nowhere to be seen and thus he would have died from starvation. Secondly, if the mother had left the foal like she had then she too knew it was hopeless and needed to keep herself and the rest of the harem safe. Animals are smart. If a mother abandons the baby it is usually for good reason. Lastly, from the time we saw there was something in the mud, to when we re-positioned the vehicle, to when the rhino bull pulled the zebra up with his horn was a very short amount of time. I was lucky to even have my camera ready and set.


This was an amazing interaction between two species and one that I was lucky to see. I have been guiding for almost ten years and may go on for many and still never witness something as amazing and melancholy as this.

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  • Wayne

    It’s easy for people to ask as an outsider why you didn’t do anything, a lot of things have to be taken into account. I can’t imagine a lot of people who would have gone between the rhinos to save the foal anyway. Sad, but good sighting, not something you see everyday.

  • Gizmo

    Sad that all you thought to do was prime the camera. Plenty of wildlife rehab centres that would take on care of this little one. I can see a time when “letting nature be nature” (which is a poor excuse to stand by and watch) will mean the death of the last animals of a given species who might be able to breed and avert extinction.

    • Jurjen Fellinger

      It’s hard to understand for a lot of people that one of the things ‘we’ learn as nature guides is “do not interfere”. In this particular situation it would be, to say the least, very unwise to interfere. Roel, it is an amazing sighting and you took beautiful pictures.

    • tuxette

      And what are predators and scavengers supposed to eat? Are you going to further interfere and make sure they’re getting enough food?

    • Jerakeen

      Gizmo, how many times in your life have you stood next to a fully grown Rhino Bull? Just because they are herbivores everyone thinks they are not aggressive. Please do some research before you judge people.

  • Ann

    Oh dear. Opinions. Who’s to say the rhino’s actions might have saved the foal? Disembowelling was not the obvious outcome. If the rhino had in fact got the foal to safety, the photos would have been heroic. Sometimes its enough to know these incredible things happen out there.

  • God

    Pls dont give the ” let nature be nature” stuff etc…mankind already messed up big time with nature wiping out whole species and subspecies…is it too much to ask to save that little zebra instead of giving commonly heard excuses…i guess the road to hell is paved witht many good intentions…

    • tuxette

      Yeah, so good that you’re willing to take food away from predators and scavengers. Way to go.

    • annette

      what would you have done with the foal after you saved it,it would have starved.sometimes you have to do nothing.

  • Marcos Chaves Ladeira

    God created all such lovely creatures. Hopefully Humankind will not mess with it to an extent that all such species become extinct. Let us push hard on conservation, always!

  • Lisa

    Omg people, really ?! Easy to be a keyboard warrior when sitting in your safe box . Really? So you are telling me that you people who are saying this and saying that about not rescuing the foal would have gotten between huge rhinos and gotten stuck in the mud to rescue the foal?! Obviously the person who took this picture has a love for wildlife. I love animals with all of my heart and then some, this has nothing to do with conservation of wildlife or any other stupid contrived belief. Put it into context people, it has nothing to with having a heart or being heartless ,
    do not be so stupid!

  • Chris

    Yes it is sad but for sure nature is nature even if seems cruel. Survival of fittest in the wild animal kingdom is sometimes horrible but necessary.

  • I’m not sure I’d have called it an “amazing interaction” – bet the foal didn’t think so (if he’d stayed alive).
    People love to anthropomorphise animals and say things like “why can’t people be like that” and most of them haven’t got a clue about wild behaviour. I’m sure many would say that the wonderful rhino was trying to save the foal, but personally I think he was curious, and probably not too happy either (rebuffed by the cows).
    Poor little foal.

    • EnoughOfThisCrap

      You realize you just anthropomorphised there; right?

      • ok, maybe slightly. But not quite the way I meant some other people do. Many people would say he’s deliberately trying to save the foal because he has feelings and realises that it’s in danger etc. Take the case of the lioness in Kenya who “adopted” an antelope calf whose mother she’d just eaten. In one scene in the video she pats the calf – and this has been said to be extending her hand in friendship.
        Besides, I am sure even animals feel something when all he wants to do is get with the cows and um……… ok leave it there. Let’s just say, if he hadn’t been rebuffed he’d probably be doing something else and wouldn’t have even noticed the zebra foal.
        Interesting name you have. 🙂

  • silver wolf

    do not know if i could off stood bye ,but i am a softie

  • Storm61

    I think you did the right thing by letting nature be nature. You didn’t have time to act so just witnessing and documenting the event was great.

  • christine

    oh dear, oh dear, oh dear people are so quick to judge. the rules of game reserves are that you are not to get out of your vehicle. so good for you for not getting out and thanks for taking the photo’s.

  • Nature LovR

    Creatures are more complicated than we think. While a lioness may even protect a young wildebeast calf, and not follow primeval instinct and eat it for some odd reason… likewise this Rhino bull, whose thought pattern obviously influenced by male testosterone and anger at rejection by the females, opted to take out its (immature actions) on the hapless Zebra foal for some “dumb-male-reason”, knowing fully its male intent and the consequences of its action on the hapless foal. It did not try to gently move the foal out of the mud wallow with the base of its horn or snout, but rather to lift the tiny body out of the mud with the very tip of its impaling horns. An example of male machismo. If two-legged, homosapien erectus, decided to intervene without the aid of a tranquilliser dart gun, he (the Rhino Bull) would have gotten all the more pleasure.

    • Andrew

      Couldn’t stop laughing at this post. Idiot.

  • Kathy

    What awesome photos! I do not understand the posters criticizing this photographer. This is nature, as is the excitement of watching a big cat kill, or that owl’s eyes reflect in the headlights. A dung beetle rolling dung. Obviously these people have never been on a game safari, each and every drive brings something new. I am a huge wildlife advocate but I accept these things occur in the wild. As sad as it may seem to you, sorry that’s life ….their way, not yours. That’s the problem with man, we interfer too often with nature.

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