Work is underway at Fresno Chaffee Zoo on the former Asian elephant enclosure to accommodate two new single-horned occupants.
Trees have been planted, dirt added to raise the enclosure’s elevation, the pool refinished and sprinklers and grass are being installed to accommodate new Indian rhinos in the home of former zoo favorites Shaunzi and Kara.
“There will be a nice, green exhibit for our browsing and grazing rhinos,” said Mark Halvorsen, animal curator at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, who will oversee the rhinos.
Inside their sleep quarters, cement was replaced by dirt that will be gentler on the hooves of the beefy behemoths, he said.
There will be a nice, green exhibit for our browsing and grazing rhinos.
Mark Halvorsen, Fresno Chaffee Zoo
Work has been ongoing for a few weeks in preparation for the new occupants, which are coming from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There are 56 Indian rhinos in U.S. zoos, according to Association of Zoos and Aquariums records.
The pair of males coming to Fresno Chaffee Zoo this fall are about 2 years old. At about 1,900 pounds each, they are less than half their full-grown size. They will reach 5,000 pounds around their fifth birthday when they grow to 6 feet tall and 12 feet long, Halvorsen said.
The two males are not related. They were hand-reared and bottle-fed when they were young, which makes them more people-oriented, he said.
Indian rhinos, the second tallest of rhino species, are vulnerable in the wild due to poaching and a loss of habitat. Their horn, made of keratin, a protein found in hair, feathers, hooves, claws and horns, is believed in Asia to have medicinal qualities for numerous maladies. The price of keratin from the rhino horn is more expensive than gold by weight, Halvorsen said.
In a perfect world, Indian rhinos are solitary grazers with a special affinity for aquatic plants and a love of wading and swimming. They are generally non-aggressive, except in breeding season.
“They particularly like being in the water, wading and swimming and wandering in the shallows,” said CeCe Sieffert, deputy director of the Virginia-based International Rhino Foundation. “They keep to themselves, wandering through grasslands, eating grass and swatting flies with their tails. They won’t provoke an attack but they will defend themselves.”
The characteristics that most distinguish Indian rhinos from their fellow horned species is their single horn and the way their skin rests on their bodies, looking like a suit of armor.
They also have a prehensile lip that allows them to more easily grasp grasses with their mouths, Sieffert said.
They keep to themselves, wandering through grasslands, eating grass and swatting flies with their tails.
CeCe Sieffert, International Rhino Foundation deputy director
Another unique feature, the “little tufts of hair on the tips of their ears,” is especially endearing, she said.
Only 3,550 remain in the wild in India and southern Nepal.
Those trying to protect Indian rhinos say that “poaching is the leading cause of rhino deaths,” Sieffert said.
The horn itself is viewed as a status symbol, but its powder has no proven medical benefits.
It’s sold as a cure for hangovers, infertility, cancer, “anything a snake-oil salesman wants to sell you,” she said.
Sieffert likens keratin to “chewing your toenails. It’s a misconception that there is any medicinal value.”