June 10, 2014— -- An orphaned baby rhino has bonded with its keeper after seeing South African poachers mutilate his mother for her horn.
The animal was brought to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center in South Africa and affectionately named Gretjie by the staff.
The poachers slaughtered his mother at the Kapama Private Game Reserve in South Africa on the night of May 7, according to the center.
By the time rangers were alerted and rushed to the scene, the poachers were gone and the rhino was dead. Next to her body, the rangers found a baby rhino refusing to leave her side, crying inconsolably, Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center officials said.
Since arriving at their sanctuary, however, the thick-skinned creature can be seen clumsily rolling down to the floor and affectionately laying his head on a female staffer's lap.
Gertjie is adapting well to life at the facility, taking two long walks daily, although it’s a challenge to feed him, the center says. He needs to be fed every three hours. Already weighing over 242 pounds, Gretjie drinks about 1.5 liters (roughly 50 ounces) of “milk” - a mixture of fat-free milk powder, vitamins, glucose and hot water - eight times a day.
Staffers say Gretjie gets grumpy when he is hungry.
The total number of rhino poached in South Africa last year increased to 1,004, or 50 percent, from 2012, according to the Department of Environmental Affairs in the Republic of South Africa.
Rhino horns are in high demand and priced in the traditional Asian medicine market, particularly in China and Vietnam.