Rhino Calf Makes Debut

Charlees stretches her legs in the Safari Park's wide-open exhibit space.

Two months after the birth of Charlees, our greater one-horned rhino, we were almost ready to let her explore the exhibit with her first-time mother, Alta (see post Preparing for a Rhino Debut). In the past month, we had watched Charlees grow up a lot and even start to build relationships with the keepers. Alta became much more accepting of the keepers, allowing us to call the calf over to introduce her to being touched around the head and letting her investigate things. The new mother kept a careful watch over Charlees, but she seemed to be much more comfortable with sharing some baby time with us! Charlees became interested in solid food just a little while ago and seems to love bananas. She came barreling at the keepers for a tiny piece of banana! This was an excellent foundation for starting a training program with her, but more on that in a future blog post.

The Asian Savanna field exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which is usually pretty quiet, had been dynamic and very busy lately. Alta and Charlees were progressing well, and they even spent some time visiting with the rest of the rhinos, Bhopu, Tanaya, Kaya, and Sundari, through a “howdy” window. They were ready to be reunited with Alta and the new little one. We gave them lots of treats in these areas to encourage this social behavior and provided some enrichment for the little family while they were temporarily in the boma, a fenced-off area within the Asian Savanna.

In preparation for their introduction to the exhibit, we planned to move the big guy, Bhopu, into the boma for awhile to give the girls a chance to get acquainted with things on their own. It’s a big exhibit to learn how to navigate, and it would be a lot less intimidating without the curious Bhopu lurking around!

On March 20, Bhopu was moved into the boma, and Alta and Charlees were released into the field. Alta was excited, yet nervous to be out there with her calf. She allowed Tanaya and Sundari to say hello to Charlees but remained very aware of their response to this new rhino. Alta is so protective, but after a few days getting reacquainted with the exhibit, we hope that she will relax a little and settle right back into the herd.

You can find Alta tucked away in the rocky part of Asian Savanna, caring for and protecting her young one. She has started approaching the feed truck again but doesn’t stay long because Charlees is almost always on the move. Her little legs run and run, and Mom stays close behind her. We’ll continue to let Alta and Charlees get acclimated to the exhibit for now and hope that she will start bringing her kid over to say hello very soon!

Jonnie Capiro is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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