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SOS Rhino : In the News : Rhino death in moat second at Virginia Zoo

Rhino death in moat second at Virginia Zoo

  By the Associated Press
Published October 4, 2004

NORFOLK, Va. -- A 32-year-old white rhinoceros fell into a moat and died, the second time within two months an animal at the Virginia Zoo has died in the watery barrier intended to keep animals in their exhibit area.
Jesse, a female rhino who spent most of her life in Norfolk, died Sunday.
"It's a very sad day," said Lewis Greene, deputy director of the zoo.
The rhino was part of the Okavango Delta Africa exhibit, a habitat for lions, giraffes, zebras and elephants, among others. Exactly what happened and why the rhino died is unclear. The zoo was open at the time.
While zoo staff are investigating, Greene said they'll have to wait for the results of a necropsy. "Obviously, the assumption is that it drowned," he said. "But we don't know that for sure."
Aug. 8, a gazelle was found dead in the Okavango Delta exhibit just two days after it was born. It was found by staff as they arrived for work and apparently had drowned after wandering into the moat overnight.
The area where the rhino fell is about 10 feet deep.
Greene said the rhino had been "interacting" with several zebras that share the exhibit. It was unclear if they had been playing or if there was some sort of confrontation.
Fights are rare among rhinos, and they are not typically aggressive toward other species. They even allow others, such as zebras, to come within close proximity, according to information about the species posted on the zoo's Web site.
Staff members arrived at the scene within moments of the rhino's fall Sunday. "There wasn't anything they could do," Greene said.
While zoo keepers can aid some animals in distress, the sheer weight and mass of a rhino make it difficult to assist, Greene said. He estimated that Jesse weighed between 2 and 2 1/2 tons. The rhinos are second only to the zoo's elephants in size.
The moat is intended to protect the public, Greene said, and it's not supposed to be a trap.
"When an animal gets in it, its slope is designed in such a way as to allow them to get back out," he said.
Her death leaves the zoo with a pair of male rhinos.
In October 2002, the zoo staff was cleared of blame for the deaths that year of three animals in the zoo's then-new Africa exhibit. The report, by three independent zoo experts, found that the deaths of a giraffe, a baboon and a lion were unrelated and had nothing to do with the design of the exhibit.
The Virginia Zoo houses about 350 animals of more than 110 different species.
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot

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