greater one-horned rhino


Personable Petunia

greater 1-horned rhinos Petunia and TanayaPetunia, the newest greater one-horned rhino calf at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, was born to Tanaya on August 1, 2014. The keepers heaved a collective sigh of relief when she and Tanaya were released from the maternity corral into the 40-acre Asian Plains exhibit with the other greater one-horned rhinos. When Petunia was born, she was diminutive by rhino standards, weighing only 128 pounds (58 kilograms) instead of the usual 132 to 176 pounds (60 to 80 kilograms). Additionally, Tanaya was having trouble producing milk for Petunia, so the keepers treated her with a drug to increase milk production. As a result, the concerned keepers kept 24-hour surveillance on Tanaya and Petunia in the maternity corral for the first few weeks of Petunia’s life.

Petunia is now a spunky, vibrant part of our greater one-horned rhino crash. She and Tanaya were released into the Asian Plains exhibit with the rest of the rhinos when Petunia was four weeks old. Tanaya took Petunia on a tour of her new home and has been the model protective rhino mom, never straying from Petunia’s side. But Tanaya’s strides are so large that Petunia trots to keep up with her. To escape the heat, Petunia has been exploring the mud wallows throughout the exhibit. She is still so tiny that she sometimes sits on top of Tanaya’s feet to keep her head above water!

As Petunia gets more comfortable in her new habitat, she gets braver. I have even seen Petunia surreptitiously investigate Parvesh, the seven- month-old greater one-horned rhino calf (see post Rhino Calf Makes Own Rules). When Tanaya catches her straying toward the toddler, she quickly ushers Petunia away. Petunia is a bit too small to play with Parvesh right now, but as she continues to gain weight, she will be big enough to romp around the exhibit with her half brother. She may even catch up to him in size, as rhino calves gain about 100 pounds (45 kilograms) per month during their first year of life. Watch out, Parvesh! Petunia might be the new boss in the exhibit.

Petunia is the 67th greater one-horned rhino calf born at the Safari Park, making the Park the principal breeding center in the world for this species. The Safari Park officially celebrated World Rhino Day on September 22, but guests who love Petunia and the other rhinos as much as I do celebrate World Rhino Day every day!

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


Rhino Calf Makes Own Rules

Parvesh trots proudly beside his mother, Alta.

Parvesh trots proudly beside his mother, Alta.

Leroy the giraffe calf isn’t the only baby commanding lots of guest attention at the Safari Park these days (see post From Milk to Solids for Young Giraffe). Parvesh, a greater one-horned rhino calf, was born to Alta on February 25, 2014. Like Leroy, he was born in a maternity corral. He gained the expected 100 pounds (45 kilograms) per month and was released into the Asian Plains habitat with Alta when he was a month old. Now he weighs about 600 pounds (270 kilograms)!

Parvesh still nurses and will continue to do so for another year and a half, but he also experiments with solid foods. As Alta browses through grass, hay, pellets, and fruit, Parvesh stands alongside to nibble her food. Caravan Safari participants sometimes feed the rhinos apples. An adult rhino eats about 100 pounds of food per day. Each caravan truck carries only ten apples, so this snack is like a box of raisins to an adult rhino. Tour participants can’t hand-feed Parvesh yet. He is too short to reach over the truck slats, which are 7 feet (2.1 meters) off the ground, and his digestive system isn’t developed enough to process the sugar in 10 apples. If we feed him too much sugar, it will ferment in his stomach and make him sick. So it will be a few more weeks before we can hand-feed baby Parvesh.

In the meantime, he makes his own rules. He stands underneath Alta with his mouth open and catches the apples she drops!

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


Helping Rhino Mili: Part 3

Mili stretches her little legs.

Mili checks out the world outside of the protective boma.

Be sure to read Helping Rhino Mili: Part 2.

The time has flown by, and by mid-January, Mili is already one month old. She is about 230 pounds at this point, steadily gaining on average 3 pounds every day, just like a greater one-horned rhino calf should. We continued our dance of feeding her bottles in the morning and giving her back to Mom for more nursing. We watched her become bigger and stronger, and even felt the difference as she tried to play with us, not realizing that we weigh much less than she does at this point. She became interested in investigating not only the things that caught her attention, but everything she could reach with her tiny, prehensile lip! She cruised around the calf area searching for things to manipulate. She reached for my lunch bag one day, and that’s when it really sunk in that she is growing at an incredible rate.

I began feeding her tiny pieces of banana as a treat, to slowly acclimate her to more solid food. She gobbled it right up and followed me around with an open mouth, begging for more. I caved and gave her a few more pieces for free, but after that, banana would be reserved for conditioning sessions only. Our goal is to maintain this great relationship with her, because soon enough she will outweigh us by a few hundred pounds, and we have to be careful to keep safe. Just like with many Zoo animals, we use positive reinforcement operant conditioning to help maintain this relationship. It is a simple process where we pair a desired behavior with a positive experience, such as being scratched behind the ear or being offered a favorite treat. In this case, an important behavior is for Mili to continue to allow us to touch her ears and legs. In the future, if we ever need to get a blood sample from her, these are two of the ideal spots on rhinos to draw blood from.

Recently, in the warm weather, I’ve been able to sit on the roof of the boma and watch these two romp around the yard, with the occasional visit of a Caravan Safari truck that has been able to get close enough to give its riders a quick glimpse of Sundari and Mili. I overhear the caravan guide remind our guests that Mom and calf are still getting used to the yard and their surroundings. Then, a unanimous “awwwww” erupts from the guests. And I have to agree: she is pretty adorable!

Mili and Sundari will remain in the boma for another month or so and then get introduced to the rest of the herd. I’ll keep you posted!

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


Helping Rhino Calf Mili, Part 2

Mili gets a mud bath from her keeper staff.

Mili gets a mud bath from her keeper staff.

Be sure to read Helping Rhino Calf Mili, Part 1.

Soon after the birth, the 24-hour watches stopped, but we still spent our entire workday observing and caring for this greater one-horned rhino duo. It was amazing to see just how quickly a rhino calf develops. After spending the entire first week with Mili after her birth, I was very much in tune with her behavior and could even see very subtle changes and developments.

Initially, her giant ears stayed down close to her head, and she moved quite slowly, still getting used to those brand-new legs. Her main goals in life, as were mother Sundari’s, were to eat and sleep. And with the occasional supplemental bottle, that’s about all she did. Mili would enter the calf area to be weighed every morning while Mom munched away on a snack. Mili still had somewhat uncoordinated movements, stepping the 4 inches up onto the scale, bumping into keepers on her way back down, and just kind of moving slowly everywhere she went.

One day, during the second week of observations, I noticed that Mili was starting to pay more attention to the things around her. Instead of her usual routine of following Mom around, she investigated items that caught her attention. She rubbed her face back and forth on top of some grain that Sundari had clumsily spilled on the ground, trying to figure out what these little, round pellets were. She became distracted by things in her room: an empty food tub, a branch of ficus that Sundari had not devoured yet, or a small scrap of hay. She was obviously more aware of her surroundings, thus more distracted when we tried to get her attention. We were no longer the most interesting thing in her world.

During week three, the 190-pound (86 kilograms) rhino ran around everywhere before skidding to a halt right in front of us, as if showing off her still-awkward legs. Her ears stuck straight up now and moved around searching for sounds, just like her mom’s ears. She was spending more time playing with Sundari, which was mostly Mili playing while Mom was trying to sleep. Also, her mode of moving around went from a slow walk to a run! Some mornings, she would have to get all this playing out of her system before she would drink her bottle. After about 10 minutes, she would surrender, open mouthed and out of breath from running, but ready to eat. Every week marked significant progress in her development.

Jonnie Capiro is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Follow Jonnie’s tweets from the field on the Safari Park’s Twitter feed.


Helping Rhino Calf Mili, Part 1

Mili is fed by Melodi Tayles, a lead keeper at the Safari Park.

Mili is fed by Melodi Tayles, a lead keeper at the Safari Park.

I sat in the dark, nestled in a bed of hay entering notes into the computer with only a lantern by my side. It was a cold night, and surprisingly, the fluffy hay bed was keeping me warm. Above the hum of the generator, I heard some stirring. The Safari Park’s newest greater one-horned rhino calf, Shomili (Bengali meaning “beauty and elegance”; Mili for short) was awake and searching around to nurse from first-time mom, Sundari. I peered through the room with my flashlight and saw her poking her face around Mom’s belly. “Come on,” I thought, “you guys can figure this out.” I patiently waited for the calf to latch on and nurse. I noted the time in our records. We were on round-the-clock watch for this little rhino and her mom to make sure they were bonding and nursing.

Rhinos are born in the wild without supervision or intervention all the time, of course, but this little rhino needed a little extra keeper care. We pay careful attention to even the smallest details in our animals. A very important part of the dam/calf bonding process is making sure the little one is getting enough milk. In this case, we just weren’t sure. Sundari seemed to be going through the motions of feeding her calf, but she didn’t seem to have as much udder development as we would expect and as we’ve seen from other rhino moms. Additionally, Mili was a little on the small side at birth, only 127 pounds, when the species’ average birth weight is 150 pounds. After much deliberation, brainstorming, and working together with the vets, we decided to offer Mili supplemental bottles, just to be on the safe side.

We began feeding her rhino calf-sized milk bottles a few times a day. Fortunately, Mili seemed to enjoy our attention, and Sundari approved of these interactions. How could we be so sure? For starters, Mili responded well to us by entering the rhino calf area, a space corralled by hay bales that she could access by walking under a bar that created a little “dog-door” just big enough for her to fit through. Here, we could get our hands on her, encourage her to walk onto the scale, as getting daily weights would be crucial to her development plan, and introduce her to the bottle.

Mili was very calm and inquisitive, which made this relationship develop smoothly. And, in this calf-only area, Mili could choose to leave us at any time and go right back to her mom. However, after just a few weeks, she was so friendly that we had to remind her to go back to Mom when playtime with us was over for the day! Whenever Mili visited with us, we gave Sundari plenty of treats to reinforce that she was doing an excellent job at being such a laid-back mom. The success of this project and relationship with Mili was mostly due to Sundari’s compliance and willingness to share her calf with us for a little while every day. What a cool mom!

Jonnie Capiro is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Giraffe Calf Introduction. Follow Jonnie’s tweets from the field on the Safari Park’s Twitter feed.


A Creepy Night Watch

Tanaya peers over at scaredy-cat Jonnie.

I slowly descend the ladder one rung at a time, shifting my backpack around to protect my computer as I jump off onto the sandy ground. Bhopu is staring at me, surprised to see a keeper at dusk; we are usually scarce by the middle of the afternoon. I ignore his confusion and press on to get inside the boma. The sun is setting over the beautiful golden-brown hills while herds peacefully graze in configurations much different from their daytime routine. They seem out of place from what I am used to, but perhaps this is their nighttime routine, and I am rarely here to see it.

I scale the next ladder and quietly step inside. It is still quite light out, but the boma rooms are growing darker, and it is hard for me to make out the rhino without a flashlight. I set up my camp for the evening: clipboard full of notes from the last day’s watch, the portable computer to log this information, and my radio and phone. As I settle in for the evening, I hear a squeaking noise coming from the rafters. If I’ve learned anything from horror movies, it’s that I should most definitely investigate the source of the sound. Boy, is that a bad idea! I shine the light up at the wooden rafters and there, rocking back and forth, is a fuzzy little body hanging upside down. Great. I knew there were bats out here, but come on. I’ve only been here about five minutes, and I am already a little freaked out.

I hang up my lantern, and as it sways back and forth, I catch a glimpse of a fluttering winged shadow dancing around the back wall. I shiver. A filmmaker couldn’t write this anymore perfect! Again, I brush it off and turn my attention toward the pregnant rhino we are monitoring. This means that some of us take the night shift, which is actually pretty fun. I’ve had to do overnights many times throughout my career, but this is the first time that I’ve had uninvited company, or at least the first time that I’ve noticed the company—even creepier!

I try to ignore the rest of nature that comes alive at night and my own vivid imagination by working on documenting the notes we have taken so far. Every once in awhile, a bat does a very low fly-by, just above my head. I have to remind myself that they eat insects, not brown-haired zookeepers, but what if they run into me on the way to those tasty insects? I am especially amused by the irony that I work with 4,000-plus-pound animals that can, you know, not even notice if I am underfoot. But, as Tanaya munches her way through the hay pile in the barn, slurping, chewing, grinding, grunting, and making noises that I can only imagine the dinosaurs once made, I laugh at myself when I duck each time I hear the ominous sound of fluttering wings.

To top things off, every hour or so, the rest of the rhinos in the exhibit come “check in” with their friend in the boma. This sounds nice, doesn’t it? But in the middle of the night, these visits consist of a lot of sudden banging on bars, rubbing their thick skin along doors, and lots of aggressive vocalizations. Thanks to those big heads and giant nostrils, they emit loud, sharp chuffs of air and abrupt snorts that startle me almost every time. Sometimes, it is really quiet, and I only hear the sound of a 5,000-pound rhinoceros breathing heavily from outside the boma. It is so comical and weird at the same time! One of the cool things about the greater one-horned rhino is their impressive array of vocalizations: snorts, chuffs, squeaks, honks, grunts, and whistles. At night, though, it is a little intense. When I take a quick look outside, it’s pitch black, and all I can do is picture those giant bodies surrounding the boma while hatching a plan. This wouldn’t be at all intimidating if it was light outside. I work with them every day, and I can read them pretty well. Dim the lights, and it’s a completely different ballgame out here!

A sudden bang against the heavy metal door jolts me back to reality. I try to enjoy the rest of the night; it really is pretty cool to get the chance to observe them at night. They are so active! The time goes quickly and uneventfully, and I am able to get some work done while spending quality time with one of our coolest species.

A few more hours go by, and I see a pair of headlights searching their way around the service road. My replacement has arrived! It is time for me to pack up my things and take off for the night. I let my fellow keeper know about the observations I made during my shift and hand over the responsibility of keeping this rhino company until morning. I grab my belongings, step outside into the pitch black of the exhibit, and breathe a sigh of relief. I made it! I survived the night with one giant rhino and a bunch of harmless bats.

Jonnie Capiro is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Rhinos: Back to Normal. Follow Jonnie’s tweets from the field on the Safari Park’s Twitter feed.


Rhinos: Back to Normal

Tanaya and Sundari watch as Bhopu relaxes in a mud wallow on his first day back into the field exhibit.

I was hoping to write a short update about how we reintroduced the big guy, greater one-horned rhino Bhopu, back into the exhibit to meet up with rhino mom Alta and her calf, Charlees, and how everything went as expected and there was no drama. But as a zookeeper, I should know better: we can’t count on anything to go as expected when working with animals!

We had waited a few months to let Alta and Charlees scope out the exhibit on their own. Bhopu, who has been by himself in the boma yard since Charlee’s birth, is lovable, but honestly, does a rhino mom really need that hulking body following her around the exhibit while trying to bond with her little one and getting her accustomed to her new female herd-mates: Asha, Tanaya, Sundari, and Kaya? (See post, Where Are Those Rhinos?) Once they had the lay of the land and seemed comfortable, we decided it was time to bring Bhopu back into the mix. But, there’s really nothing gradual to this process. It’s as simple as opening the boma door and watching what happens. Using the rest of the herd to our advantage, we strategically chose a range of dates that offered a distraction to Bhopu that was too good to resist and would keep him occupied for a few days: we set him up on a date!

We monitor the girls’ estrous cycles pretty accurately by submitting weekly fecal samples to our Endocrine Lab for hormone and pregnancy analysis. We expect to see them cycle every four to six weeks (see Collecting Rhino Treasures: Poop!). We really only had one candidate to set up with Bhopu: Asha, the nine-year-old. We believed she would cycle sometime around the end of June, and these behaviors and signals would help make Bhopu’s transition a little easier for Charlees. Greater one-horned rhino estrous behaviors can range from subdued and subtle to very obvious and last from a few hours to a few days. If we missed this opportunity, we would have to wait another month or so. We waited and watched Asha like a hawk, listening closely for a whistle vocalization, a sign of agitation, or just that indescribable characteristic that keepers are just in tune with – looking to see if she seems different than her usual self.

As I drove around the exhibit one morning at the end of June, I noticed one of the female rhinos alone, walking the perimeter of the exhibit. Hmm. Even with binoculars, I couldn’t identify the isolated rhino, but the girls are almost always paired up: Alta and Charlees, Asha and her sister, Kaya, and Tanaya and her younger sister, Sundari. When one of these girls is alone, it can only mean one thing: she’s in estrus. Ordinarily, this occurrence wouldn’t be a big deal, but today we had a very small window of opportunity that we had to take advantage of immediately!

We gathered the troops, conversed via radios and cell phones to concoct a plan, and made sure we had extra vehicles available. First, we conferred to make sure we were all in agreement that this was the best opportunity and possibly the only sign of behavioral estrous that we might see. We all agreed and quickly met up in the exhibit.

With our trucks in position, we opened the heavy boma yard door, and Bhopu calmly exited. A little while went by, and Bhopu wasn’t picking up on any of Asha’s signals. Instead, he searched the exhibit and met up with each rhino. As he approached Alta, we were poised, 4-wheel drive engaged, ready to intervene any potential aggressive interactions. Alta, the super-protective mom that she is, roared at Bhopu and took off with her calf. Among the confusion, Alta and Charlees were separated from each other for a little while. We maneuvered our trucks around the very bumpy exhibit terrain, bouncing around while trying to reunite these two. Instinctively, Charlees tucked herself into the rocks way in the back of the field exhibit. Alta only searched the front of the exhibit! We had to try to get her to walk in the direction of Charlees, while timing it perfectly to encourage Charlees out of her hiding spot so Alta could spot her. This strategy took some effort on our part, but very soon they were reunited, and we all felt like we were in the clear.

That was a tough, but memorable, day. Alta is a great mom and continues to keep a careful watch over the little one. Charlees has had several subsequent interactions with Bhopu, and he’s been quite gentle with her, probably because Alta just gives him a look and a snort, and he respects her protectiveness. Charlees is really doing well on exhibit with the rest of the group. She readily approaches the feed truck and sometimes she even visits with the guests on the Caravan Safari Tours.

Jonnie Capiro is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Follow Jonnie’s tweets from the field on the Safari Park’s Twitter feed.


Where Are Those Rhinos?

Alta and Charlees sleeping away in their “rhino hideout.”

One morning, I turned off the truck engine to enjoy the tranquility of the field exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and realized it was much more peaceful than usual. Why wasn’t a boisterous group of greater one-horned rhinos raiding the contents of my feed truck? Why couldn’t I hear them noisily chomping on carrots and apples? Why was it so eerily quiet and still out here? Where were the rhinos?

Rhino dynamics had changed quite drastically upon releasing new mom Alta and her now 4-month-old calf, Charlees, to the exhibit and temporarily housing Bhopu, our sire, in the boma yard to give Alta and Charlees some time to navigate the huge exhibit on their own for a few months (see post Rhino Calf Makes Debut). After Mom and calf cruised the entire exhibit checking things out, Alta took her baby down into the ravine, a rocky area that the rhinos seem to know we keepers can’t access, even with our four-wheel-drive trucks. The other four females followed suit. It seemed like they were just taking a break at first, but then a few days went by and we were all stumped: why aren’t they acting like they usually do?

The greater one-horned rhinos are notorious for being giant chowhounds. They are pretty reliable for approaching our trucks looking for a snack and sometimes even treating them like their own personal buffet, grabbing bags of feed, hoisting their large heads up onto the bed to quickly survey the contents for a shiny, red apple. But lately, they wouldn’t even bother to grace us with their presence first thing in the morning when we dish out hundreds of pounds of grain throughout the exhibit.

We realized we better make an effort to get the rhinos used to coming up to our trucks again. Each day, we tried to lure the rhinos over to a flat spot with a giant, leafy piece of their favorite treat: ficus browse. They barely responded. However, thanks to the evidence of the enormous rhino middens (poop piles spread throughout the exhibit; see Collecting Rhino Treasures); we know for a fact that they surfaced every day, just not during our work schedule. Hmm.

This went on for a few weeks, and then we started seeing them up and around the exhibit first thing in the morning. Aha! I approached Alta and Charlees cautiously, because one thing you should know about greater one-horned rhinos is that they are kind of dramatic; one minute you can be feeding them apples from the truck, and then who-knows-what initiates a reaction, and they trot off as if you’ve offended them. I calculated my approach, tossing pieces of food out of the window as a peace offering as I rolled to stop. Alta and I sized each other up. I was thinking, “Is she going to run off?” while she probably wondered, “Is this little truck driver going to mess with my kid?” I decided she was going to stay, so I hopped out of the driver’s seat and quickly scaled the back of truck and armed myself with all kinds of goodies.

I sat there and patiently waited for her to realize that she could trust me. I guess hunger won her over, because she slowly started lumbering toward my truck with kid in tow. I had the chance to interact with Charlees while she was in the boma, and Alta did a great job of being protective but not aggressive. In the safety of the boma, Alta would munch away on her treats while keeping a careful eye on Charlees, who would try to eat my entire hand after I fed her a tiny piece of banana. She already had tiny little teeth! I would reassure Alta by giving her plenty of positive reinforcement and letting her calf approach me on her own, instead of reaching out to Charlees. Now, out in the field, it’s like hitting the restart button. We have to develop a relationship all over again because of this big change in her environment.

As she approached the truck, I dropped an entire tub of food on the ground and also handed her a few apples. She must have been hungry, because she didn’t pay any attention to her child as she busily investigated the front of the truck. So far, so good. While Alta ate, Charlees made her way around to me. I reached my hand down with a tiny piece of apple, and she gobbled it right up! I fed her piece after piece while checking on Alta to make sure she was cool with this. She didn’t seem to mind. Alta finished her tub of treats but didn’t walk off like the rhinos usually do when the food is gone. I gave her some grain and hay to see if that would satisfy her, and it did. Charlees was also interested in this new food item and started playing with it with her somewhat uncoordinated prehensile lip. I sat and watched them eat, enjoying the company of this pair. Charlees is an extraordinary addition to our group of rhinos, and I’m proud that her mom has done such a great job of caring for her.

After this visit to the truck, Alta became more interested in approaching us again and allowing her calf to visit us. Eventually, Asha and Kaya emerged from the rhino hideout and were spotted feeding from Caravan Safari trucks and even lounging in the wallow. Whew, looks like things are getting back to normal…until we let Bhopu out of the boma in about a month!

Jonnie Capiro is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Cinco de Rhino.

Follow Jonnie’s tweets from the Safari Park’s field exhibit on the Safari Park’s Twitter!


Panda Narrator at Safari Park

Guests on a Rolling Safari get a unique view of the Park's lions!

One of the great benefits of working for San Diego Zoo Global is that it gives employees the opportunity to explore other positions in the organization. For some of us, we can go on loan to other departments to help out during busy times. Although I am a panda narrator at the Zoo, for about three years now during Spring Break weeks I have had the great opportunity to work at the Safari Park and help give Africa Tram Safari and Rolling Safari tours. The best part of this process is learning about the different conservation programs that we are doing on grounds at the Park and letting our guests know that by coming to the Park they have helped us in all of our endeavors.

On the Africa Tram Safari, some of the first animals our guests see are the South African cheetahs. The Park has 1,800 acres, so we have space for a cheetah breeding facility where we have welcomed over 130 cheetah births. Many of our cheetahs born here become ambassadors for their species and go to other zoos to help bring awareness to their plight in the wild.

Southern white rhinos can roam far and wide at the Safari Park.

One of the most famous animals at the Park is the southern white rhino. In the early 1900s, the rhinos were hunted for their horns to the point where there were less than 500. For years, the practice in zoos was to put a male and a female rhino together and wait for them to breed. We now know that southern white rhinos are social animals, and the females like to be in a herd to help protect their babies. They won’t even come into heat unless they have that social group! Right now we have a male at the Park chasing the girls around, trying to court. The funniest thing about these animals is that if a male wants to court a female, he has to get the approval of the rest of the herd!

On the Rolling Safari Tours, our guests get to ride on a Segway X2 while getting to see the Asian animals that are not out for general viewing, such as the greater one-horned rhino, Przewalski’s horse (an extremely rare wild horse), Indian gaur (one of the few wild cattle left), and the Arabian oryx (an animal that was extinct in the wild but was brought back due, in part, to the Safari Park’s breeding efforts).

Taking a Safari Park tour is a great way to really see how involved San Diego Zoo Global is with conservation. Every tour lets you get extra information about what we do, our mission, and how you have helped and can continue to help as you leave the Park. I think the most exciting thing for some is seeing the new babies born. Since the Park opened in 1972, over 20,000 animals have been born here, and we help the scientific community by sharing our knowledge of animal behavior, successful techniques to secure breeding, and successful animal management.

If you have the time, please come check out the Zoo’s sister facility, the Safari Park. Watch these animals interact with each other in the large, open exhibits, and see animal behavior like you’ve never seen before.

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Our Growing Takin Calves.


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.