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SOS Rhino : In the News : U.S.' oldest white rhino celebrates 42

U.S.' oldest white rhino celebrates 42

  By: BRIGID BRETT - For the North County Times
Wedensday, February 16, 2005, 11:46 PM PST

ESCONDIDO ---- Everyone seems to want to see that cute baby rhino at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, but the rhino that should get the most attention is Komaas, a 4,000-pound southern white rhino that turns 42 years old Thursday.

According to Andy Blue, the animal care manager at the park, Komaas is the oldest of her species in the United States. In fact, she may be the oldest Southern white rhino in the world.

"If Komaas was living in the wild she probably wouldn't have made it past her mid-thirties," Blue said. The reason for this, he said, are the optimal conditions for her species at the park: Along with 11 other members of her herd, as well as an assortment of gazelle, giraffe, buck and birds, Komaas has the freedom to roam 100 grassy acres. She's been vaccinated against West Nile virus, she has ample food and water and plenty of cool, oozy mud to wallow in.

Most important of all, there are no poachers lurking in nearby bushes waiting to kill her for her horns, which could be made into dagger handles or sold for their so-called medicinal properties.

Not only is Komaas setting a record for longevity, but she has given birth to more offspring than any other southern white rhino in the world. Three years ago she gave birth to her 16th calf, Kabibi, who can usually be found grazing close to her mother's side. Rhino calves generally stay with their mothers until they are about 2 or 3 years old.

"She's a great mother," Blue said. "Every one of her offspring has survived."

Komaas might in fact be pregnant again, said Blue, who is waiting for tests to come back from the lab. She is in excellent health, he says, and is still cycling, so it is entirely possible that she might become a mother for the 17th time.

Komaas was born in the Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa and was brought to the Wild Animal Park when she was just under a year old, before the park was open to the public. Southern white rhinos were on the endangered list in those days and the goal of the park was to preserve endangered species._ ___

Far surpassing anyone's expectations, the Wild Animal Park has the most successful captive breeding program for rhinos anywhere in the world and the southern white rhino is no longer considered endangered. When the worldwide population of southern white rhinos numbered less than 2,000, a male at the park sired 50 babies. Ten of those babies were Komaas'.

The name white rhino is puzzling to many people, since they are actually a brownish gray. It is thought that the word "white" came from the Afrikaans word meaning "wide" ---- a reference to the animals' girth.

Komaas' birthday will be spent like all other days, Blue said. She'll probably wake up at around 6 a.m. when she hears the sound of her keeper's truck approaching with her food. At around midday when the sun is high she'll lie under a tree with her calf and a few other companions.

And of course, there will always be time for soaking in the mud.

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