Rhinos in Australia

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Laura bonds with a young female black rhino.

Be sure to read Laura’s previous post, Australian Keeper Exchange.

As a zoo keeper we are supposed to care for all of our animals with the same expertise and energy. But we all have favorites, and mine have always been rhinoceroses! Back in San Diego I work with Soman and Surat, our greater one-horned rhino brothers (see The Dirt on Rhinos). The Taronga Zoo, where I’m doing my keeper exchange, does not have any rhinos, but I didn’t let that stop me. Last week two of my co-workers and I took the five-hour drive to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. It is basically like Taronga’s version of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. You can rent buggies and drive through the pathways and hop out to see each of the huge exhibits. Most of the exhibits are single species, so it is quite different than the Safari Park’s mixed-species field exhibits. Either way, the animals have a huge amount of room to roam.

A young female greater one-horned rhino gets a "taste" of Laura!

The Taronga Western Plains Zoo has white, greater one-horned, and my favorite, black rhinos. When I started my zoo career, I worked with three black rhinos, and they have always held a huge place in my heart. I was able to visit with the rhinos and keepers at each exhibit and see how they manage their animals in such large enclosures. They have 10 black rhinos, 2 greater one-horned, and 8 whites. It was truly heaven for me! We discussed training, introducing males and females, weights, blood draws, reproductive testing, the whole lot. Visiting other zoos is such a great way to get new ideas and bring them back home. The sharing of information is so important to our job.

A Tasmanian devil at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo

They have a major Tasmanian devil breeding facility out there, too, and it was wonderful to get a glimpse of these well-known animals. Devils are very energetic and make such wonderful vocalizations. I also learned about housing them and their specific needs. Being so close to the ground, they really like to have a lookout point. Each of their individual dens had a small mountain of sticks, rocks, and dirt so they would be able to see what was going on from a small vantage point.

We stayed in the zoo house on grounds, which had wonderful old signs and pictures from zoo days gone past. I always enjoy seeing those pictures, because it will be some keeper from 1930 standing right next to a full grown hippo and just smiling at the camera!

It was such a wonderful trip, and we even saw wild kangaroos in the zebra exhibit. I am halfway through with my keeper exchange and cannot believe how fast time is flying. More adventures to come!

Laura Weiner is a senior keeper from the San Diego Zoo on a keeper exchange at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia.