You’re not my Mom! Rhino calf swapping on Welgevonden


Remember those awkward moments as a young kid where you followed the wrong mom in the grocery store? Remember that mortified feeling as this complete stranger looked down wondering why a small child, not belonging to them, had suddenly grabbed their hand? Well, imagine doing all this, but never realising that the person who’s hand you’re clutching…is in fact not your mom…

Rhino mothers and calves meet

The two mothers and their calves would meet and greet on occasion as seen above. During one of the events the calves may have been swapped © Tracey Poutu

An intriguing case of rhino calves swapping mothers was discovered at the end of last year. During their rhino monitoring, the assistant research coordinators noticed that a rhino cow, who had given birth to a male calf in April, suddenly had a female calf in October, and another cow who had a female calf in April, now had a male calf in October.

One of the cows with her original male calf ©Margerie Aucamp

Initially, we thought we may have made a mistake in the sexing when the calves were first born. Luckily, we take photos of all the calves and they confirmed our suspicions that the calves had indeed swapped,” says Carmen Warmenhove, our Research Camp Coordinator.

Although it might sound unorthodox, a degree of calf-swapping has been known to occur in natural populations of Southern White Rhinos and this is not the first time this has happened in Welgevonden. In fact, during a PhD study in 2009 five calf swapping events were identified from DNA samples taken from mother-calf pairs!

The same cow with a female calf several months later ©Carmen Warmenhove

No one is quite sure how these events occur or why but both cows have been regularly frequenting the same foraging areas which would have created the opportunity for the swap to occur.

We are very happy to report that both calves appear to be blissfully unaware and are following and happily suckling from their new mothers.



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