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SOS Rhino : In the News : Love dance of the rhinos
 

Love dance of the rhinos

  Two full-figured beasts will meet today - and maybe have a baby

BY ELAINE DE VALLE

edevalle@herald.com
Posted on Fri, Jan. 14, 2005
The Miami Herald
Herald.com

Single, lonely, macho male, 27, seeks rambunctious lover for quick fling.

Must be ''full-figured'' -- say about 2,500 pounds.

That's because the bachelor is Toshi, a highly endangered black rhinoceros who has lived at Miami Metrozoo for 21 years.

An animal dating service -- the international "Species Survival Plan" -- has found him a new mate: Rosie, a 14-year-old female rhino from Zoo Atlanta who has proven to be picky.

She's been paired before with a male in Atlanta -- but he, apparently, was not the one for her. The relationship ended without any offspring.

Toshi, on the other hand, has a history of success. With his previous mate, Toshi sired two offspring, which were sent to other zoos.

Today, Rosie arrives in South Florida and will lay her eyes on Toshi for the first time.

And it's the animal handlers who are nervous.

''Rhino lovemaking is serious,'' said Metrozoo spokesman Ron Magill. ``It's one of the few advanced mammals where actually the foreplay can be kind of violent.''

Zoo keepers will be standing by -- with fire extinguishers and large vehicles.

''They like to knock each other around a little bit,'' Magill explained. ``We have to be able to decipher, `Are they just having some really incredible foreplay or do they hate each other?'

``It's very intense.''

In fact, their sexual liaisons are partly responsible for bringing the black rhino to the brink of extinction. They are often killed for their horns, which are thought to be aphrodisiacs.

'Because people who have the privilege of watching rhino lovemaking say, `Wow, if I can get that horn maybe I can do that too,' '' Magill said.

``It's not true, of course.''

It's that misperception which has helped decimate the species -- from more than 100,000 black rhinos in the wild in the 1970s to fewer than 15,000 today.

Toshi and Rosie are expected to do their part to repopulate the rhino kingdom.

Metrozoo has already played a successful role in several productive matches.

''We've had two orangutans born here and also sent a female to St. Louis Zoo and she gave birth there,'' Magill said.

The Species Survival Plan -- which comes up with a breeding mate using a computer analysis of genetics, species biology and demographics -- has also been responsible for the birth of two Asian elephants, 27 Komodo dragons and 13 Andean condors, the largest flying bird in the world, at Metrozoo.

''We've had 25 chimpanzees born here as a result of SSP pairings,'' Magill said. ``In the bird department, the wattled crane from Africa, one of the tallest birds in the world -- we've had 24 of them hatch out here.''

But the romance of Toshi and Rosie may be the zoo's most difficult challenge:

The lovers will be kept apart until Rosie is ready, Magill said.

The animal handlers will be on the lookout for Rosie to become, well, sexier.

When she's at the peak of her ovulating cycle, Magill said, Rosie will get flirty -- she'll get closer to Toshi and let him know it's OK.

''The female runs the show,'' Magill said. ``He's just a piece of meat.''

Once Rosie gets knocked up, the romance is over. She'll go back to Atlanta and Toshi will have no hand in the little one's -- or, rather, big little one's -- upbringing.

It's not that Toshi is a deadbeat dad. Rhinos are just love 'em and leave 'em types.

''This is the way it happens in the wild,'' Magill said.

''Black rhinos are very solitary animals,'' he explained. ``She'll beat the snot out of him if he tries to come near her again after she's conceived.''




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