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SOS Rhino : Research, Projects and Grants : Zoo Projects : Zoo Atlanta Erects a Rhino Chute

Zoo Atlanta Erects a Rhino Chute

  Zoo Atlanta now has a rhino chute.

A rhino chute is a cage-like enclosure for containing a rhinoceros while a veterinarian and researcher work with it. Difficult procedures such as ultrasound examinations, collections of semen, and nutrition studies are made a little simpler when the rhino stands inside a chute. The specialist can safely reach in between the chute's vertical bars to touch the animal.

The new chute will allow Richard Sartor, Assistant Curator of Large Mammals at Zoo Atlanta, and keepers there to further examine Rosie and Boma, a rhino couple that has been together for a while, and help them solve their breeding problems. A successful pregnancy is the goal in mind.

The rhino chute in different stages of production: at left, the foundation has been made; at right, the bars have been added.

The chute was completed in May, 2000. Sartor asked Dr. Schaffer to consult on the construction of the chute.

Prior to the construction of the chute, Rosie and Boma had not been breeding well. When they did get together to breed, Boma often became distracted when mounted on Rosie by the leaves he could now reach and eat above him.

In addition, staff at Zoo Atlanta were concerned that Boma's penis, which bends downward at the tip at a perpendicular angle, might be complicating their sex life. This, however, was perfectly normal. The rhinoceros penis curves back when relaxed, allowing the rhino to spray bushes behind it. This act marks their territory.

When the chute was built, the Zoo Atlanta staff gave Rosie and Boma access to the chute in the morning by offering food. Once a rhino was in the chute, the keepers conducted a training session in order to desensitize the animal to its new environment. In time, the two became more willing to enter the chute. As is typical of female rhinos, Rosie led the two in acceptance of the situation.

At right, the gate for the rhino chute stands against a wall. At left, the rhino chute toward the end of its manufacture.

The chute at Zoo Atlanta is a dead-end chute, meaning that it is free-standing, and there is only one opening for the rhino to enter. Some chutes are built as part of a pathway to a rhino's feeding area. These chutes accustom the rhino to enter the chute en route to another regularly scheduled area. When the gates close, the rhino hasn't had to be coaxed or prodded into the chute.

Not every zoo or wildlife sanctuary with rhinos has a rhino chute. The zoos that do have one have committed the time and the staff to working with the rhinos, and they have committed the money--a chute costs anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000. The most expensive chutes are made of aluminum, instead of steel, and feature hydraulic squeezes. (These squeezes do what their name implies: they make the cage smaller, essentially "squeezing" the rhino, so that the vet has better control over its movement.)


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