In March 2016 my fiancé and I slathered on the sunscreen for our first trip to Kenya with Gamewatchers Safaris, where we spent one wonderful week exploring the country’s famed national reserves and parks. We encountered elephants everywhere in Amboseli National Park, tiptoed past a buffalo right outside of our tent in Nairobi National Park, saw lions mating and leopards in trees in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and spotted cheetahs almost every single day. However, without a doubt, the highlight of our East African adventure was having the chance to meet Ringo the baby rhino during our stay at Porini Rhino Camp in Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
After a beautiful bush breakfast on our first day at Porini Rhino, our Maasai guides took us to the conservancy’s predator-proof Endangered Species Enclosure to see the world’s three last remaining white rhino – Sudan, Najin and Fatu – who live alongside a small population of Grevy’s zebra and Jackson’s hartebeest. This was a delight in itself, but the best was still yet to come.
And out it charged – in the form of a beautiful bundle of joy called Ringo, a rescued baby rhino! Words cannot describe the happiness that I felt that morning spent showering this baby rhino with affection as he vied for everyone’s attention.
We found it near impossible to tear ourselves away and could all but stare starstruck while he gallivanted around, and laugh lovingly when he drank his milk at lightning speed from our bottles. Once he’d sufficiently slurped down enough and was happily worn out after a game of ball, this little grey gift from the gods then fell soundly asleep at our feet, gracing us with the opportunity to stroke him like a puppy.
He was the most adorable ball of all things wonderful – curious, affectionate, playful; a little being with a big personality! And the love that he showed for his caregivers was evident too, as he followed their every move and seemed to trust them unconditionally. The respect was clearly mutual as they all appeared to have an unbreakable bond with the baby – always keeping a watchful eye as he bulldozed around; never leaving his side for a second.
When I received an email from Ol Pejeta Conservancy announcing the sad news that Ringo had passed away on the night of Tuesday, 19th July 2016, my thoughts raced to his carers who I know must still be in a world of pain. To all extent and purpose, they were his parents, and the team at Ol Pejeta were his family – protecting little Ringo around-the-clock. However, sometimes even the best intentions and care are not enough, and Ringo sadly succumbed to illness after a fortnight of fighting against its clutches.
My thoughts also go to Ringo’s 2.8 tonne friend, Sudan – the oldest northern white rhino on Earth – who had such a close connection with the baby. It’s all heartbreaking. However, at such a tragic time, I keep trying to remind myself that Ringo’s life has not been in vain. In his seven months, he made waves in the world by drawing attention to his species and showing people just what rhinos are made of – a heart as well as a horn!
Sam Suter, responsible for producing the video featured above for Black Bean Productions, also fondly remembers Ringo the rhino: “We all fell for Ringo big time. He had a seriously unique personality which made up for his size (he was small for a seven month old calf). His personality was larger than life – he walked toward the action always and felt very left out otherwise. He was abandoned during a drought and due to a medical condition was very weak when the team at Ol Pejeta found him. So I guess he was always on the weak side in terms of his physical state and health. We were so blown away by the carers and their bond with him. I was able to give them a ‘break’ from their duties and chill with Ringo while he slept. He didn’t sleep easily without someone by his side. Especially if there was a lot going on! Even the hardiest of our crew members fell for this little guy.”
He was perhaps always destined to be famous and to bring so much happiness into the world. And he was aptly named in accordance with this fate, as James Suter from Black Bean Productions explains: “The team from the The Nobelity Project met the baby rhino soon after he was found abandoned by his mother. They learned that he would need almost constant care for three years before being released back into the wild, and this care would cost about US$1,000 a month. Fortunately, The Nobelity Project was happy to be Ringo’s financial sponsor for the first year and, as a result, they were asked to name him.
“They considered traditional Kenyan names but they were keen for this little baby to bring focus to the plight of rhinos. They knew that Ringo Starr – the famous drummer of The Beatles – loves rhinos and had even once changed his website homepage to feature a photo of a baby rhino so as to bring awareness to the battle against poaching. The Nobelity Project felt that the baby rhino’s name was, therefore, a nice tribute to this musician, and they hoped that by naming the calf after the celebrity, it might have a slightly better chance of survival. It was also an opportunity to bring awareness to Ol Pejeta’s multi-faceted approach to stopping the slaughter and saving every rhino possible.”
And sure enough, Ringo has achieved just this – and more. He has lit up so many lives with love and laughter, and I treasure the awareness that he brought to my own life. So sleep soundly baby Ringo, and thank you for all that you have done to help us humans on our way.
Rest now in peace – you were a rockstar in your own right.