CAKE and keepers have helped the county’s first hand-reared rhino celebrate her first birthday.

Belle the rhino at Cotswold Wildlife Park has celebrated her first birthday this week with a celebratory pellet cake and a couple of milk bottle feeds.

Keepers also celebrated with cake after becoming quite close to the animal over the past year.

Due to a medical issue with her leg soon after birth, Belle became the first hand-reared Rhino calf in the park’s history.

This has since resulted in keepers dedicating some 350 hours to bottle-feeding Belle - approximately 14.5 days worth of feeding.

Cotswold Wildlife Park keepers say this has amounted to a huge 12,478 litres of milk consumed by Belle in her first year.

She marked the special occasion on Tuesday, October 2.

Cotswold Wildlife Park curator Jamie Craig said: “It certainly does not seem a year since Belle gatecrashed into our lives at the Park.

“After some very trying times and some sleepless nights, we started to make real progress once her leg healed and she has gone from strength to strength ever since.

“It is hard to believe we spent nights keeping her company in a tiny side pen in the rhino house when we see the 700kg bulk in front of us today.”

Belle weighed 67.5kg when she was born and now keepers say she weighs 675kg.

It said the original decision to hand-rear the second largest land-mammal was not made lightly, and Belle needed 24-hour care - including keepers sleeping in the rhino house to bottle-feed every few hours.

Mr Craig added: “It has been a real privilege to watch her develop and grow and form bonds with the other members of her crash.

“I am sure she will go on to be a successful mother herself and be an important member of the breeding programme for this declining species.

“When the time comes for us to leave here in a year or two to join a new herd, I am sure there will be a few tears shed but any sadness at losing such a great character will be mingled with satisfaction at what we have achieved.”

The park’s efforts during Belle’s first year has meant her leg has fully recovered and she has successfully been reintroduced to her mother Nancy and rest of the rhino family.

She is down to a couple of bottle-feeds a day and this will stop by the age of two.