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.
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.