About Author: Jane Kennedy

Posts by Jane Kennedy


A Tribute To Nola

We lost an icon on Sunday, November 22: Nola, one of only four northern white rhinos left in the world. Here is part of her story.

For over 26 years, Nola called the San Diego Zoo Safari Park home. As most of us know, she arrived here from the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic in 1989, with her coalition partner, Nadi. Neither female had reproduced; both were entering their late teens, a time when most rhino females have already had several calves. Nola and Nadi took quickly to the large open exhibits of the Safari Park. They learned to enjoy the California sun and the large expansive pond in the exhibit. Unfortunately, they never fulfilled the dreams that researchers, curators and keepers had for them. Neither female showed consistent interest in the male northern white rhinos—Dinka, Saut, and Angalifu—they shared their exhibit with. Very little mating behavior took place, and as a result, the northern white rhino is one of the very few animals we have not bred successfully at the Safari Park.


While Nola never had a calf, she always had a following. At first it was her keeper staff who had the opportunity to know her intimately. Nola arrived with a hoof problem that required regular hands-on care. Nola’s nails curved upward, so they did not wear down normally. As a result, keepers had to perform nail trims on her so she could walk less flat-footed—something that, had she been left in the wild, might have led to her early demise. Nola received pedicures throughout her entire life, at the hands of her keepers. Nola learned early on to trust the humans around her—they always looked out for her well-being.

Because Nola was so tractable, she became an artist! A few years ago, she started “painting” by rubbing her horn on canvases with children’s nontoxic paints. Keepers learned that not all children’s paints are the same! She actually had preferences for one brand over another, based on the smell. Rhinos have very good noses, and she made her preferences known. As most of us know, she went on to paint pictures for auctions and rhino fund-raising campaigns. She also painted a piece for the state capitol, which was presented to Toni Atkins, speaker of the California State Assembly.


The last group of northern white rhinos in the wild was wiped out by poachers around 2008. But it has been the deaths of three northern white rhinos in zoos that have spurred many people into action. In October 2014, 34-year-old Suni died in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, leaving six northern white rhinos in the world. Then in December 2014, our beloved Angalifu (Angi to his keepers) died here at the Safari Park, leaving five. In July 2015, we lost female Nabire at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic. She was one of only four northern white rhinos ever born in captivity. And now with the loss of Nola, we are down to three northern white rhinos in existence on the planet, all at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Where you and I come in is with San Diego Zoo Global’s Rhino Rescue Center. If technology continues down the exponential path it has taken of late, there is hope for the northern white rhino. We already have the DNA of 12 northern white rhinos in our Frozen Zoo®. What we need to do next is develop assisted reproduction techniques, like those we use in humans and other animals. Also, if the northern white rhino is to make a comeback, it is because a southern white rhino helps. The Rhino Rescue Center is home to six southern white rhinos. One of these southern white rhinos could be the surrogate mother for a northern white rhino, carrying the calf for their cousin, and then rearing that calf. It is possible that someday the northern white rhino could make a comeback, right in our own backyard. Wouldn’t that be amazing?


Even though Nola has passed, she gives us something to believe in. She gives us hope and love, but most of all she gives us courage. She’s been so strong for the last few months battling her illness. It’s her “I’m not giving up” attitude that has inspired her keepers to keep on. She wasn’t just passing the time: Nola had been living. Yes, she slept in every morning, and we brought her food to her, and we were there to trim her nails. But Nola enjoyed life. She even had a rhino companion: the 46-year-old southern white rhino bull named Chuck. Their relationship was special, and friendly. Nola and Chuck were two very old rhinos that had found a connection at the end of their days. That’s why we worked so hard to keep them happy—they deserved it. Chuck will continue to live in our South Africa exhibit, and you can visit him by taking the Africa Tram Safari or a Caravan Safari.

Here’s my final thought about my friend Nola. I believe God wants us to do what’s right for all species, not just the northern white rhinoceros. Thank you for being part of the team that knows the right thing to do. And thank YOU, world, for caring. What we do does make a difference.


Jane Kennedy is lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, What’s It Like to Work With the Rarest Rhino in the World?


What’s it like to work with the rarest rhino in the world?

I started working at the Safari Park in 1983, and was working with the animals by 1984. The most frequently asked question I’ve had is “What is it like to work with rhinos?” Of late it’s been “What is it like to work with the rarest rhino in the world?”

One of my charges is Nola. She is one of only four northern white rhino alive on our planet. Their story is well known; the northern white rhino population has gone from 2000 in the 1960s, to 500 in the 1970s, to just 4 today. None of the four remaining animals can breed, so the only thing left for them is extinction.

Jane (left) & fellow keepers clip Nola’s nails

For me and the team that I work with here at the Safari Park, that’s just unacceptable. The Safari Park has been a captive breeding haven birthing more than 20,000 mammals, many of which are endangered. We are the most successful breeding facility in the world! The Safari Park has helped bring back species like the California condor, the Arabian oryx, the giant panda, and many others that could be lost to extinction if it weren’t for the work we do. The thought of not doing everything we can to help the northern white rhino is unimaginable. Yes, it will be complicated and difficult, but we can do it if we work as a global team.

Jane tends to Nola

Jane tends to Nola

As keepers, our part of the puzzle isn’t developing the science we will need, our part is to give the hands-on care these rhinos need to survive and thrive. For me, that means giving Nola the best care she can receive for her remaining days. At 41 she is the oldest recorded female northern white rhino. Her last day can be any day. My job is to make every one of those days a good one. It usually involves apples and alfalfa (something we now know is not a good thing for white rhino) and of course some love in the form of scratches behind her ears. For the rest of her life I am charged with being her lead keeper; the human she can most rely upon to take care of her. I plan on doing this job to the utmost of my abilities and give her the love that she needs.

You are part of her team too. Every time you support San Diego Zoo Global you support Nola. Your dollars will make the Rhino Rescue Center a reality. What I will do for you is share Nola’s remaining days with you. You can be part of her team that makes sure every day is a good day. Watch for my posts about Nola and what her days have been like. Thank you for caring about her, and all of the other animals being protected from extinction here at the Safari Park and San Diego Zoo. What we do makes a difference.

Jane Kennedy is lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Feeling Better and Getting Her Nails Done: Northern White Rhino at San Diego Zoo Safari Park Gets Pedicure.


An Extra Treat for Nola

Nola is about to enjoy her extra treats from a young admirer.

Nola is about to enjoy her extra treats from a young admirer.

On occasion, I am reminded that what each of us does in this world does make a difference. Recently, a letter was sent to the “San Diego Zoo: Nola, the Northern White Rhino.” Nola is the one of the last of her kind, a northern white rhinoceros of which only seven remain in the world. Nola, who turns 40 this year, lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s South Africa field habitat. Her male counterpart is Angalifu, age 42, who is the only bull northern white rhino left in captivity; he lives in our Central Africa field habitat. One other older female lives in a zoo in the Czech Republic and four northern white rhinos live on a game reserve in Kenya, guarded around the clock by Rhino Protection Units. These seven animals represent a species on the verge of extinction. I am privileged to be Nola and Angalifu’s lead keeper, so the letter was forwarded to me.

Inside was a beautiful red, blue, and gray coloring on purple paper of a crash of rhinos. (Yes, a group of rhinos is called a crash!) It said “I (heart) rhinos.” Each of the rhinos was colored with a gray crayon. It was beautiful. On the back was a note from a child from Washington state. It said:

Paxton drawing

Paxton note

“When I heard of Nola, I wanted to do something to help. I saw Nola on my vacation. I am enclosing my mom’s check for half of the money I made from doing chores. Please give Nola an Extra Treat from me. Thank you, Paxton.”

These simple words brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. In this short note, the purpose of my work was clearly laid before me. Nola is in danger of being the last of her kind because of the greed of humans. Rhinos are being poached for their horns at a rate of one every eight hours, and the rate is rising. Nola needs our help to live out her life with dignity knowing she is protected from poachers, unlike her counterparts in the wild. I also need to make sure she enjoys her life here at the Park, to give her “extra treats.”

The message we share at San Diego Zoo Global is a message of time. We are running out of time to stop the extinction of this species. Luckily, we are reaching the next generation with our message. When young children like Paxton return home after visiting the Safari Park and realize they can make a difference, we have lead the fight against extinction. If a 10-year-old boy can recognize the need to help rhinos—and all animals, for that matter—we have successfully shared our message that wildlife is in danger. We all must do our part to end extinction now. I will continue to care for Nola, provide her with “extra treats,” and work tirelessly to save rhinoceroses.

Paxton, you are my hero for wildlife, and I am proud to be part of the team that will work with you to help the northern white rhino, to stop extinction now. What you do does make a difference!

Jane Kennedy is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, is president of the International Rhino Keeper Association, and is the North American Regional Studbook Keeper for the greater one-horned rhinoceros. Read her previous post, Giraffe Calves Galore!


Giraffe Calves Galore!

Machaleo, our youngest calf, with mom Shani.

Magaji giraffe is doing well at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (read post, Bottle-fed Giraffe)! Now seven months old, she is having lots of fun getting to know her new home in the field enclosure in East Africa and Mazi, Jarani, and Machaleo, three little boy giraffes that were born after her this summer. We keepers are also awaiting female giraffe Ykeke’s impending birth any day! We’re all hoping it’s another female.

Little Machaleo struts his stuff.

Magaji’s mom, Crystal, is pregnant again, and we’re hoping this time she allows her calf to nurse. Even though Crystal did not let Magaji nurse, she did take care of her in every other way; I am hoping she’s more comfortable this time around. She should deliver her second calf in fall of 2011.

Magaji was weaned on Halloween, a bit of a trick instead of a treat for her since she loved her bottle! If you want to come see Magaji, either look for the biggest little giraffe from the Kilimanjaro Hiking Trail or come visit her on a Caravan tour and possibly feed her some acacia leaves!

Jane Kennedy is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


Giraffe Calf Answers

Ken McCaffree, senior keeper, feeds herd sire Saba.

Thanks to all of you for your comments about Uganda giraffe calf Majagi and her mom (see post Bottle-fed Giraffe). Also, thanks for recognizing all of the keepers this past week during National Zoo Keeper Week! We all love our jobs and are privileged to take care of the animals. We do our best to always put the animals and their concerns first. YOUR support of the Zoo and Park makes that possible!

I’d like to answer some of the questions readers had, so here goes:

Crystal did have milk for Majagi but seemed to not like the experience of nursing. If you’ve nursed a child, you know that it’s often painful at first. She seemed to not like the feeling of nursing, gently kicking Majagi away when the calf tried to nurse. Crystal’s behavior is not typical, since, as a general rule, giraffes are very good moms. We haven’t had to bottle-feed a Uganda giraffe at the Park since 1988, when I helped raise Gadimiwa giraffe in our Animal Care Center!

Saba (pictured above) is our herd sire. He has been at the Park for almost 3 years and has sired 9 calves and has 9 more calves due! Three will “drop” (drop is a term keepers use to indicate an animal is having her baby) this summer, and the other six will drop their calves between fall and next spring. Giraffes have a 14- to 15-month gestation! Saba will stay at the Park until the SSP (Species Survival Plan) decides it’s time for him to move to another facility. It’s much easier to move one male as opposed to moving all of the females in a herd. Keepers work with their animals to keep them tractable, which enables us to get a close look at them every day.

Regarding the giraffe’s subspecies name, we used to use the name Rothschild’s giraffe (the name of the man who scientifically named them Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildsi) but now use Uganda since it is more specific to where these giraffe are from.

I think a “Meet the Giraffes” page sounds great! I’ll ask my boss if we can do this! It’ll take a while to set up, since we have 20 giraffes to profile!

Jane Kennedy is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park.


Bottle-fed Giraffe

Part of my job as lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park is to take care of the animals, even those that may not have a good mom. This is Majagi the giraffe’s story:

On April 28, 2010, Crystal the Uganda giraffe had her first calf. Crystal is only 3½ years old, quite young for a normal giraffe mom; most female giraffes don’t give birth until they are 4 or 5. Since she was a first-time mom, we kept a careful watch to observe her for maternal instinct and nursing the calf. Our keeper doing the watch, Jennifer Minichino, named the giraffe Majagi, which means “tall glass of water” in Swahili.

During our observations we noticed that Crystal would nuzzle, lick, and care for her baby, but would not let her nurse. We watched all day but never saw nursing, and Majagi seemed to be getting weak since she wasn’t getting any milk from her mom. We separated her from her mom and took her to the Wild Animal Park’s Harter Veterinary Medical Hospital overnight. Her mom didn’t seem to mind.

The veterinary staff and keepers worked hard to get her healthy enough to go back to her mom the next day. Majagi weighed in at 176 pounds (80 kilograms) and was 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall. We offered her bottles overnight and got her drinking giraffe formula from us.

We then teamed up with the Park’s Animal Care Center (ACC) staff to take care of Majagi. The ACC is in charge of preparing her bottles and doing the evening feedings, while we do the morning feedings. Several keepers volunteered to be her surrogate mom, even a couple of the guys! (Thanks, Steve and Matt!)

Jane uses a giraffe-patterned towel to lure Majigi

The next day we introduced her back to her mom; Crystal accepted her but still would not let her calf nurse. Since Crystal was a good mom in other ways, we let her stay with her calf and took over the feedings for Majagi. We initially fed Majagi five times a day, with her last feeding at 7 p.m. Majagi is now going on three months old, so she only eats three times a day. We feed her over 3 gallons (11 liters) of milk each day! Majagi now weighs over 300 pounds (136 kilograms) and is almost 8 feet (2.4 meters) tall!

We hope to introduce Majagi and her mom to the rest of the giraffe herd early next month and finish bottle feeding her in the field where she can interact with the other giraffe kids (three boys and three girls with three more moms due this summer!) and learn to be a part of the giraffe herd in the East Africa exhibit at the Wild Animal Park. Come visit the Park this summer to see the giraffe calves play together!

Jane Kennedy is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Watch video of Jane feeding Majagi.