In 1998 I celebrated my retirement from practice by signing up for a veterinary C.E. and camera safari in Kenya.
As a boy, reading the books written by naturalist and explorer Carl Akeley left me with a passion to see the wild animals of east Africa. Now at age 60, the growing popularity of the behavior shaping method for newborn foals I called “Imprint Training” (because it involves training during the immediate post-partum imprinting period) had led to a rapidly growing lecture career and journalistic invitations. I couldn’t handle these and practice, so I apprehensively decided to quit practice and devote my time to teaching and writing.
Now, two vans filled with veterinarians, their spouses, and a couple of LVTs stopped. Our guide pointed to a rhinoceros lying on its side several hundred yards away. It was motionless except for its ears, waving at the flies.
“Why don’t you all walk out there and take photos of that three year old bull.”
This was out in the wild on a huge game refuge, part of the immense Ol Pejeta cattle ranch.
All of the people on the tour promptly exited the vans, except for me, my practice partner Dr. Bob Kind, his wife Marylee, and my wife Debby.
Bob and I had an extensive zoo practice. We knew that rhinos, even those born in captivity, were very aggressive. They readily hook at anything with that lethal horn on their nose. So, the four of us stayed in our van.
We watched from afar as the group surrounded the rhinoceros. They took pictures. The bull remained on his side, only his ears moving.
Then, we gasped as one man sat on the rhino. They took more pictures. Soon, five people at a time sat on the animal, posing for photos.
I was amazed, and said, “I guess it’s okay. Let’s go get some pictures.”
Shortly after we joined the group, our guide, a nattily dressed young Englishman (in shorts and a pith helmet) said, “Well folks, we have to move on. We have a busy schedule. Back to the vans.”
When we all walked away the rhino looked over its shoulder to watch us. Then it rolled over, got to its feet, and followed us to the vans.
Then, I said to our guide, “My partner and I are the only vets in this group who have worked with rhinos. We know how aggressive they can be. That’s why we stayed behind initially. We are amazed how docile it is.”
“Well,” the guide responded, “you see there are a dozen rhinos in this reserve. The only way we can protect them from poachers is to have a sentry, armed with a rifle and a radio, stay within sight of each rhino, 24 hours a day. Each sentry serves a 12-hour hitch, always in sight of his assigned rhinoceros. When this bull was born, the sentry toweled it dry and spent about 20 minutes handling it, until the mother got to her feet. Then, of course, he left the calf.”
“Ahh!” I said. “So it is imprinted by humans and trusts them and is programmed to follow them.”
“Oh!” he said, “You know about imprinting.”
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