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SOS Rhino : In the News : Zoo staff hoping rhinos hit it off

Zoo staff hoping rhinos hit it off

January 4, 2006

The pitter-patter of little, three-toed rhinoceros feet could be heard around the Brevard Zoo in about two years.

Love is in the air.

A female, Uzuri, arrived on Dec. 22 and will be joined this week by 3,000-pound Kibibi, another female. These girls, 4 and 5, will be introduced to 4,400-pound Howard, an 8-year-old male, who lives at the zoo, with his buddy, Max, a 5-year-old male.

The anticipation will be heightened by a 30-day quarantine period.

But here's where the rhino matchmaking gets complicated.

Max and Howard now hang out all day, munching hay and rolling in the mud. Just two guys livin' the life.

Max won't be invited to join the herd, which can be seen by the public in February. Still, the threat that Max could make a move on one of the girls will increase Howard's interest in fatherhood. Works better than a Barry White album.

"You need more than one male to get breeding success in captivity," zoo executive director Keith Winsten said. The rhino gestation period is about 16 months.

"In the next couple of years, we could have baby rhinos."

The white rhino has returned from the brink of extinction, and this match-up has been arranged with the blessing of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, as part of its species Survival Plan.

"It's the biggest dating service you ever saw," zookeeper Dawn Drake said.

Right now, Uzuri is getting used to her new surroundings. She's a California girl from the San Diego Wild Animal Park, who may be a bit homesick. Rhinos have keen hearing and smell, but don't see well, so zookeepers are careful to speak loudly to announce their approach.

Uzuri, Max and Howard spend nights in a barn within earshot of each other. The courting, apparently, has begun.

"They vocalize when the boys are in at night," Drake said.

Uzuri is a spirited female. However, she is expected to calm down when Kibibi arrives because the two female rhinos spent time together in San Diego. Zookeepers will watch the group carefully to make sure everyone is getting along.

While they look fierce and weigh about two tons, the male rhinos are cooperative, especially when they see the brush that zookeepers use to give them a rubdown.

"The boys are cuddly," Drake said. "They like their stomachs scratched."

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