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Rooiberg Veterinary Services

Wiki West

Diaries of Saving and Rehabilitating a Baby Wildebeest

A first-person perspective from our photographer Wiki West

Arriving late at the game reserve in Rooiberg with Dr. Andy Fraser, I was brimming with anticipation. The night air was cool, and as we drove, the reserve teemed with life. Herbivores crossed our path under the starlit sky, setting the stage for an unforgettable experience. I was thrilled about the opportunity to document Dr. Fraser’s work, a dream come true for any wildlife enthusiast.

As we approached our accommodation, our headlights illuminated a tiny baby wildebeest. Alone and vulnerable, it stood in the darkness, its herd nowhere in sight. We waited, hoping for the mother to return, but she didn’t. Dr. Fraser concluded the calf had been abandoned.

“Alright, he’s your project,” he said, handing me the struggling calf. We transported the baby to the clinic, where I attempted to feed him with a special formula. Despite my efforts, he refused to take the bottle. Dr. Fraser explained that the calf had likely not fed for two days and warned me about the high mortality rate in such cases. He advised me not to get too attached. We left it with no name. 

For the next 36 hours, I cared for the wildebeest in my room, waking up hourly to attempt feeding. He suckled on curtains and my fingers but refused to swallow the milk.

He grew attached to me, following my every move, always trying to climb into bed with me with his awkward, lanky legs. I would wake up to see his strange curious eyes and long eyelashes right in front of my face, watching me intently as I slept.

Exhausted and worried, I reported the lack of progress in feeding to Dr. Fraser. He urged me to keep trying, emphasizing the importance of the calf swallowing even a small amount of milk.

Then, finally, after 26 hours, the calf swallowed a tiny bit. It was a moment of pure joy and relief. Over the next few days, he gradually accepted the bottle, growing stronger with each feeding.

We bonded deeply during that month. He became like a shadow, following me everywhere, cuddling in the grass, and playfully running around me. We went on walks together, and he tried to suckle from me, mistaking me for his mother.

But my time at the reserve was drawing to a close. I had to leave my newfound friend behind. I trained another staff member to take over his care. By then, he had started nibbling on grass, making the transition easier for him. Leaving him was bittersweet; I wished I could take him with me, but life in the backseat of a car would not be the most comfortable for a growing wildebeest bull.

Months later, I returned for a cheetah photography project and found him well-adjusted. He had become a semi-tame wildebeest, comfortable around humans but maintaining a respectful distance. He recognized me briefly before moving away, now independent, but always near the lodge, watching his human herd.

Now, whenever I see a herd of wildebeest, my heart warms with the thought of the baby wildebeest I raised.


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