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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : February 2000 : Rhino Romance Bertha waits for mate at wildlife ranch

Rhino Romance Bertha waits for mate at wildlife ranch

By Vanita Reddy
San Antonio Express-News
February 9, 2000

The newest animal addition to Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch can overturn cars and trucks with her 2-ton body and spends most of her time in a mud hole. Big Bertha, a 9-year-old African white rhinoceros, was brought to the park in November as part of its breeding program.

Only 200 white rhinos exist in the United States. They are one of five species of rhinoceros, all of which are listed as endangered. In Africa, rhinos are slaughtered for their horns, which are ground and made into a powder that is marketed as an aphrodisiac. Like most rhinos, Bertha's size and aggressive tendencies make it necessary for her to have her own pen, away from the ostriches, elk and other animals that roam freely on the park's 400 acres. It's also why she's not allowed near the park's visitors, who drive through the park to pet and feed the animals.

Despite the fierce qualities that define her species, Bertha spends most of her time grazing quietly in her pen. She consumes about 150 pounds of hay and grain a day, said Tiffany Soechting, park publicity director.

Even though most visitors don't have direct contact with Bertha, she responds surprisingly well to the human touch. "You wouldn't think an animal of this size would take to human affection, but she does," Soechting said, as she stroked the rhino's sandpaper-like skin.

Park officials spent more than six months building the pen to hold what they hoped by now would be a family of white rhinos.

The park bought Bertha to mate with a captive male, but the male died from kidney failure shortly before Bertha arrived. Now, officials are looking for a male partner for Bertha, whose biological clock is ticking. "She's ready," Soechting said, referring to Bertha's mating age "We had an offer for a 2-or 3-year-old male, but that's not mature enough." Soechting said the park is looking for private owners to sell a white rhino and has contacted the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which helps coordinate breeding programs for endangered species.

A last resort would be to bring a rhino in from Africa, Soechting said. But African rhinos often carry diseases and have to be quarantined. And some, which are taken from the wild, first have to be tamed, she said. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association selects mates based on a variety of criteria including age and genetic makeup. A male white rhino from the San Antonio Zoo now is on loan to the Brownsville Zoo.




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