A Boyhood in Africa

Africa in the early 1960s as experienced by a young ex-patriot


with 2 comments


Note to readers: Although I’d like to post these stories in chronological order, events sometimes conspire to derail this desire. As I was pressed to come up with an alternative, I improvised by finding this story on an often unused hard drive. Enjoy!

Once, whilst growing up in Africa, Nairobi to be exact, I encountered an orphaned baby rhinoceros. His name was Rupert and just a few weeks old at the time. His mother, named Gerty, had been poached because she had an unusually long front horn which instead of pointing up, drooped forward. The wardens in the game park where these rhinoceroses lived found the orphan and brought him to Nairobi to stay at the home of one of the chief wardens before being shipped off to a London zoo.

The son of the chief warden was one of our schoolmates. Naturally, as soon as we learned of Rupert, we were quite keen to see him. So on the first Saturday after his arrival, we got to go over and meet Rupert. He was perhaps two feet long and stood perhaps 14 or 16 inches off the ground. He must have already weighed in at 150 pounds; a very dense (that’s “high specific gravity” to those of you not versed in scientific argot) creature not unlike a highly animated engine block. The top of his snout had what appeared to be two psoriasis spots where his horns were already beginning to grow. Reportedly, he was either asleep or very keen on playing an endless game of tag in which he was always IT. He was already especially fond of running into people’s shins as a means by which to bring them down. As soon as he had brought down one person, he would quickly focus on a new victim. Sometimes one of the family dogs got this honor. The dogs didn’t have a clue how to deal with Rupert. Rupert’s hide was too thick for their bite to be effective, and when they barked at him, Rupert simply interpreted this as their call for a chase. At first the dogs could easily outrun Rupert, but as he strengthened significantly over the few days he was a guest, his speed improved and he could occasionally catch the dogs. He was usually a lot rougher with the dogs than with people. Fortunately his attention was focused almost entirely on finding a new victim to chase down, so the dogs remained relatively unharmed, albeit befuddled and confused.

The only break in the action was feeding time. Our friend’s parents had set up a large jug with an oversized nipple to serve as a baby bottle. At the time Rupert was drinking several gallons of a formula of milk and vitamin supplements a day. Periodically, perhaps once every five minutes, Rupert would break off his spirited game of tag for a few seconds to drink formula. Of course, as he was drinking his eyes were darting around in an exited attempt to locate his next victim.

I understand that Rupert was shipped off to live off the rest of this life in the London Zoo. I don’t know how long rhinoceroses live and as it’s been over forty five years since this encounter, I would imagine that he’s since passed on to that big game of tag in the sky. I wonder how long after they got him up to London had he been keen on playing endless games of tag.

Postscript: I contacted the London Zoo via the Contact the Zoo webpage and was eventually put in touch with the Zoo Registrar. I had asked if there were any records of the Zoo having taken delivery of a baby rhino in or abouts late 1962. She went through the records and discovered that indeed the zoo did take delivery of a baby rhino sent from Kenya in 1962. They named him Bwana something or another. Apparently nobody troubled themselves to include in the Bills of Lading the name “Rupert” so lacking same the Zoo staff renamed him. Come to think of it, Rupert was unable to tell them his name either. He lived until the late 1990s when he was moved to a location south east of London where they cared for geriatric zoo animals. That’s where Rupert met his demise and, if appropriate for zoo animals, where he was interred.


Written by GW Abert

February 23, 2015 at 08:21

2 Responses

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  1. Could this have been the same Rupert who was the subject of a touching video on YouTube? He was eventually released into the bush but appears to have suffered from his separation from his human family. He died in the bush if memory serves me.

    Col. B. Bunny

    October 22, 2015 at 13:13

    • No, Rupert was captive in the London Zoo until late in life when he was moved to another facility southeast of London.

      GW Abert

      October 22, 2015 at 13:37

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