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
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
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