Integration Process For A New Rhino: Rhinos Horn To Horn
Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS
When a zoo decides to acquire a new animal, an integration plan must be developed. At the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, Kansas, the female black rhino died unexpectedly. A decision was made to acquire a new female black rhino. Working with the International Rhino Foundation, the best genetically compatible female black rhino, Bibi, was located at the Kanazawa Zoological Garden of Yokohama, Japan. She was 4 years old.
The first step was to arrange the transportation for this 8,000-mile journey. Because several rhinos had died from international transport, it is now required that an experienced veterinarian in international transport of rhinos and an international animal transporter also experienced with rhinos supervise the transport. The team consisted of an experienced veterinarian from the International Rhino Foundation, an experienced transporter from the Global Animal Transport and the senior veterinarian from the Sedgwick County Zoo. This team carefully supervised every move of the transport crate during the journey. The veterinarians continually monitored her stress level. They were ready to sedate her if she became alarmed or significantly agitated at any point. She ate at regular intervals and sometimes lay down to sleep. Because she did well with the numerous transfers during this lengthy transport process, it became clear to the veterinarians that she had a wonderful disposition. This would be the second transport of a rhino from Japan to the United States. The transport unit with the female rhino inside weighed 8,000pounds. It was critical to keep the unit level at all times as the rhino was standing inside for the majority of the trip.
She arrived at the Sedgwick County Zoo on October 25, 2001. At the time of the arrival she had been in the transport crate almost 45 hours. With considerable effort, the transport crate was moved through the Africa Building. Getting Bibi out of the transport crate into her new quarters was a critical step that would require perfect coordination. Two vertical bars in the back of the unit had to be quickly pulled up through the top of the crate, which would allow Bibi to back into her stall. It was absolutely critical that this be accomplished without any mechanical hang-ups. If she backed into the bars as they were being pulled up, bending them would immobilize the bars in the half open position. Panic by Bibi at that moment could easily lead to a fatal outcome. This was the most dangerous maneuver of the entire trip. She could not go forward into the stall, ashen would see the bars the instant they started to move and would instantly charge bending them. The bars were pulled smoothly and she quickly backed into her stall. The bars were covered with tarps so that the keepers and equipment would not be visible to her. While she examined her new quarters, it was evident that she was in excellent physical condition.
Anything new for an animal usually causes tension. Bibi faced new quarters, keepers, sounds and smells. After a month, her daily care was routine and she was eating well. The tarps had been removed. She was becoming more and more relaxed. The bars between her and Eugene’s stall had been covered with boards. After several months, Eugene was brought back into his stall. Bibi now had access to his smell and sounds. This was the preliminary introduction to her new mate. Three months later, Eugene was taken out of his stall, the boards removed and Eugene brought back into his stall. Bibi could see him now for the first time. She panicked and began racing around her stall sometimes banging into the bars. Then she stopped racing as if she began to realize that the bars actually protected her from Eugene. He was 800 pounds heavier and had a large intimidating horn. The sharp tip of this horn was subsequently removed with a wire saw. This was in preparation for the day that they would actually meet horn to horn. Having regained her composure, she charged the bars. They attempted to horn butt each other through the bars. After more than two hours of this activity, they were very tired and this activity ceased. In the following weeks there was snorting and false charges, but these became less often. After a month of this association through the bars, the next step in the integration process was to give Bibi access to the outside exhibit. The first time out she cautiously made asmall circle and returned inside. A few minutes later she make a larger circle. Then she walked out and stayed a while. Within two weeks she seemed comfortable outside and even began using the pool.
The final and most critical step of the integration was bringing the two rhinos horn to horn in the outside exhibit. In the wild when two rhinos meet for the first time, they usually go horn to horn for a long time. They are testing the strength and ability of each other. This first encounter decides which one is dominant. Then in the future a face off is usually only a few minutes, as they each already know who is actually dominant. As this lengthy initial contact is usually quite intense, one keeper was positioned with a fire hose ready incase things seemed to be getting out of hand. A blast from the hose would startle the rhinos and likely break up the encounter temporarily. Also a keeper stood near the moat with a fire extinguisher. If the rhinos got to close to the edge, a blast of CO2 would scare them off to another part of the exhibit. Their exhibit has two raised islands of rocks and trees that form a figure eight pattern. This pattern provides a retreat path that has no end. Retreat is always an important part of any encounter. Sometimes it is the only response. When our two rhinos first came out face to face, there were many non-contact charges and snorts. Then horn clubbing became serious. This was followed by a retreat of one rhino with the other in hot pursuit. Sometimes it was Bibi in pursuit and other times Eugene. A mixture of these activities continued for over three hours. Both rhinos were bleeding from the head and base of the horns but this was not serious. Finally they stood exhausted and just looked at each other.
The initial horn-to-horn conflict was over and dominance had been determined. In the months following there were many confrontations but these only lasted a few minutes. Most of these were snorts with charges not actually involving contact. Seven months after this first horn-to-horn encounter, the first copulation occurred. This signaled the likely possibility of having a baby rhino. The planning and execution of the integration process for Bibi had been quite successful. This is one example of an integration process for a new animal at a zoo. You have my permission to use this information for any purpose of AZAD.
Sincerely, Lowell W. Wilder