Animal Spotlight: Southern White Rhinoceros

Animal Spotlight: Southern White Rhinoceros

As you meander down the pathways at Reid Park Zoo and gaze down at a rhino resting in the shade of a tree, it’s hard to imagine it sprinting across the field at about 30 mph. These large animals may be smaller than elephants but can always beat them in a race! Reid park Zoo has two southern white rhinos- Yebonga and Fireball.

Yebonga is a much-loved elderly female. She was born in San Diego on April 15, 1973. Sometimes good things do happen on tax day. She moved to Tucson on June 8, 1976. With the median life expectancy of white rhinos at 31 years, her 48th birthday was a real celebration. Due to Yebonga’s advanced age, she often chooses to rest in her cool and comfortable barn. If you don’t see her, Fireball will be usually be out and about. Being outside together does not work as Yebonga doesn’t appreciate the antics of a rowdy teenage boy, but they do visit each other in the barn and are quite happy with the arrangement.

Fireball was born in Glen Rose Texas on December 24, 2002. He arrived in Tucson On October 2, 2013. He has sired 8 calves at The Wilds, a safari park in Ohio. Fireball’s participationin TheAssociation of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) has already helped his species, a lot. If an animalpopulation is in decline, data is collected to determine which animals are a good breeding match. In the future, Fireball may be considered as a breeding match with another rhino, but for now he enjoys lying out in the sun and eating and eating and eating. White Rhinos eat as much as 100 pounds of food every day! And when he’s not munching, he likes to rearrange the rocks in his habitat, roll in the mud and lounge under a tree. He also loves a good belly rub. All those activities make him hungry, of course.

Yebonga and Fireball are Southern White Rhinos. ‘White’ is really a misnomer. The word ‘white’ may have been mistaken for the Afrikaans word for ‘wide’, referring to their wide square mouth with straight lips, which are perfect for grazing on grasses in South Africa. They are herbivores but interestingly, can eat plants that are toxic to other animals. This helps to keep those plants under control and means their constant grazing protects any number of smaller species.

The rhinos’ small eyes on the side of the head give them vision on the sides but limited vision in the front. A great sense of smell and hearing make up for this. The largest part of the rhino brain is dedicated to the olfactory sense, which indicates how important the sense of smell is for survival. Being able rotate their ears independently compensates for the compromised visual abilities, allowing them to hear the sounds all around with equal intensity.

Like their friends the elephants, the rhinos’ thick skin is susceptible to sunburn, so rolling in mud gives them that extra layer of protection and helps with annoying insects. At The Reid Park Zoo, the keepers make sure that there is always plenty of mud for them to enjoy!

The next time you see Fireball or Yebonga, check out their feet. They are ‘odd- toed ungulates’, along with zebras, horses and tapirs. This means that they walk on an odd number of toes, each encased in a hard shell (hoof). Rhinos have three toes on their wide round feet, but the foot is small considering the amount of weight they must support. Reid Park Zoo is diligent about checking the feet to prevent problems due to the heavy load they must carry. Yebonga and Fireball each top the scales at over 4000 pounds, each about as heavy as a small car. The rhino head can weigh 1000 pounds! And the large hump of muscle on the back of the neck is there to help support and allow it to move.

The word rhinoceros means “horned nose.” The horns on the rhino consist of compressed strands of keratin, like fingernail fibers. The Southern White Rhino has two horns; the largest can grow up to 79 inches, while the smaller horn may reach 22 inches. The Southern White Rhino is currently classified as near threatened, and poaching for their horns is still the biggest threat to these majestic animals. Human development and habitat loss are also leading to their decline in the wild.

Reid Park Zoo provides exemplary care to all animals who live there. But they also contribute to every other zoo’s knowledge of the species in they care for. One example is that our small but world-class zoo is responsible for identifying a Vitamin E deficiency that can occur in rhinos in human care, so rhinos in accredited zoos across the country now benefit from this discovery! The zoo is also activelyinvolved with the International Rhino Foundation. Protecting rhino populations in the wild and research aimed at improving the chances for long- term survival of all rhino species is an essential part of conservation strategies.

And of course, Yebonga and Fireball are great ambassadors for their species!

Originally published at http://reidparkzooexpansion.org on May 7, 2021.

--

--

--

Advocating for the Reid Park Zoo expansion. Not affiliated with Reid Park Zoo, The Reid Park Zoological Society, or The City of Tucson Parks and Recreation.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

If I Could Tell You Anything

21 Photos of Animals Completely Failing to Be Majestic

A sweet looking dog with a goofy expression, tongue out, poses in front of a “guard dog on duty” sign

The Day Jasper Went Home

12 Lessons on Minimalism

Losing a beloved pet is just as painful as losing a human companion.

How To Become A Foster For The Odd Pet Out?

Pandemic Puppy Pandemonium Requires Lots of Time and Love

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Reid Park Zoo Expansion

Reid Park Zoo Expansion

Advocating for the Reid Park Zoo expansion. Not affiliated with Reid Park Zoo, The Reid Park Zoological Society, or The City of Tucson Parks and Recreation.

More from Medium

Dear Ogichidaag (Warriors),

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Q&A: Meet Andrew Pierce, whose journey from skeptic to advocate is chronicled in new book

Can Ben Simmons Sue the 76ers for Suspending His Pay Because of Mental Health Issues?