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10 Things You Should Know About Rhinos

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Rhinos are amazing and massive animals that easily capture the imagination of their admirers both at zoos and in the wild. Unfortunately, they’re facing serious threats and their numbers are dwindling lower all the time. In honor of Endangered Species Day today, here’s a deeper look at the armored tank of animals.

Black rhino image courtesy of Alison Sanfacon's Flickr stream.

1. Like many English words, "rhinoceros" comes from words of another language--in this case, Greek. Rhinoceros is made from the words rhino (nose) and keras (horn). So next time you use the shortened version of their name, just realize that you’re saying nothing more than “nose.”

2. A group of rhinos is properly referred to as a “crash.”

3. Don’t expect them to put out your fires. While there are tons of legends from Malaysia, India and Burma stating that rhinos instinctively charge at campfires and stamp them out, there have been no recorded instances of the animals actually doing this. While rhinos do have a highly evolved sense of smell, and the scent of smoke really irritates them, it still seems unlikely that a rhino would charge directly at a fire no matter what you may have seen in The Gods Must Be Crazy.

White rhino image courtesy of gmacfadyen's Flickr steam.

4. Despite their names, white and black rhinos are pretty much the same color. That’s because the names don’t actually have much to do with the animals' skin tone at all. The white rhino was originally called “whyde” by Dutch settlers, referring to the creature’s wide square mouth. The name was eventually anglicized to white and, surprisingly enough, the black rhino was only so named in an effort to distinguish it from the white rhino.

While they may look similar, there are differences between the species: the black rhino has two more chromosomes than the white rhino; the white rhinos have broad lips for grazing on grass and the black rhinos have long lips for eating foliage off of plants; and black rhinos weigh about half as much as their white counterparts. Even with their differences though, the two species can still interbreed and produce fertile offspring.

Indian rhino image courtesy of Wikipedia user Krish Dulal.

5. It’s not just a black & white issue. While black rhinos and white rhinos are the most common and the most well-known, they aren’t the only rhinos around. The Indian rhinoceros can now be found only in Nepal and northeastern India near the foothills of the Himalayas, although they once roamed over an area stretching all the way from Pakistan to China. These rhinos are easily recognizable since they only have one horn (hence their other name, the greater one-horned rhinoceros) and have odd wart-like bumps around their upper legs and shoulders.

The lesser one-horned rhino (a.k.a. the Javan rhinoceros) is also pretty easy to recognize, as the females rarely have a horn larger than a nub and the males have much smaller horns than other rhino species. The Javan variety are also much smaller and a little smoother than their Indian cousins, although you’re unlikely to see a Javan rhino any time soon. This is the rarest of all rhino species and one of the rarest large mammals in the world with, unfortunately, only around 40 alive today. While their name might lead you to believe they are native to Java, they were actually widespread throughout Asia until they were hunted to extinction in practically every country except the Indonesian islands.

Perhaps the most visually striking rhino, though, is the Sumatran rhinoceros, which is the furriest and smallest of all living rhino species. As you might imagine, their reddish brown fur was an evolutionary adaptation to help the rhino better deal with the cold environment in its high altitude range in Borneo and Sumatra. The Sumatran rhino is the most archaic of all species, evolving into its current form over 15 million years ago, and is more closely related to the woolly rhinoceros of the ice age than any of the other living species.

6. Rhinos' feet are surprisingly sensitive. As they walk, rhinos put most of their weight on their toenails. In the wild, they walk around in grasslands, marshes and wetlands, which don’t wear down their toenails all that much.

Unfortunately, when the creatures are brought to zoos and held in concrete or asphalt enclosures, the nails wear down and the rhinos have to walk on their foot pads. As a result, they often get swollen, sore and cracked feet that can quickly become infected. In fact, one zoo helped correct the problem by gluing modified horseshoes onto their rhino’s toes, allowing him to better deal with the asphalt ground. If you want to read more about the procedure (and other animal zoo stories), I highly recommend The Rhino With Glue-On Shoes.

Javan rhino image by Lawrence Anson Wong's Flickr.

7. Rhinos need our help. With only 60 40 remaining Javan rhinos left in the world, it’s obvious the variety is in peril, but they’re not the only ones. All rhinos are in danger at this point. In fact, there are only about 275 Sumatran rhinos, 17,500 white rhinos and 2,675 Indian rhinos alive today. Furthermore, while white rhinos are doing alright as a whole, the Northern white rhino subspecies is down to only around 10 individuals. Equally shocking, the black rhino’s numbers have dropped sharply, from 70,000 in the late sixties to 2,450 today. To help, you can always donate to The International Rhino Foundation.

8. While loss of habitat has been a problem for the beasts, their biggest threat is poaching and, unfortunately, this problem is only getting worse. In 2010, a record number of rhinos, 333 to be exact, were killed in South African National Parks, and in 2011 the number increased to 448. Some officials estimate that only 3% of poachers are actually being caught. To stop the killing, reserves have tried a variety of tactics, including removing the horns altogether (the rhinos rarely need to use them to defend themselves), using a fluorescent pesticide on the horns to protect the rhino from bugs, catching poachers at the airports, and applying poison to deter buyers of the horn. In some case, mercenaries even kill suspected poachers on site.

No matter what officials do to try to stop the killers though, the lure of massive amounts of money, especially during the global recession, is just too powerful. So how much are rhino horns worth? Well, one average size horn can easily bring in a quarter of a million dollars.

Sumatran rhino image courtesy of Wikipedia user Ltshears.

9. One of the saddest things about the murder of these magnificent beasts is the fact that their horns, despite some Eastern medicinal practitioners' claims, are essentially useless as a medical treatment. That’s because rhino horns aren’t made from any special material; they contain nothing but keratin, the same proteins as human hair and fingernails.

10. There is hope though. Remember that there are up to 17,500 white rhinos? Well, most of them are of the Southern white rhino subspecies. While there are now around 16,250 in the wild, at the turn of the twentieth century that number was closer to 100. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of organizations like the San Diego Zoo, the numbers skyrocketed in the latter half of the century. With any luck, the Northern white rhino and the Javan rhino populations can rebound as well.

Happy Endangered Species Day everyone, and remember, if you want to help a variety of endangered critters, including rhinos, the World Wildlife Fund is a always a great place to donate.

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Australia Zoo Is Taking Name Suggestions for Its Newborn White Koala
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Australia Zoo/Ben Beaden

A koala with striking white fur was recently born at the Australia Zoo in Queensland, and she already has an adoring fan base. Now all she needs is a name. As Mashable reports, the zoo is calling on the public for suggestions on what to call the exceptional joey.

The baby, who is one of several newborn koalas living at the zoo, climbed out of her mother’s pouch for the first time not too long ago. When she made her public debut, she revealed a coat of white fur rarely seen in her species. According to the zoo, the koala isn’t albino. Rather, she got her pale shade from a recessive gene inherited from her mother known as a “silvering gene.” Though the light coloration is currently the koala’s defining feature, there’s a good chance she’ll eventually grow out of it and take on the gray-and-white look that’s typical for her species.

For now, the Australia Zoo is celebrating the birth of its first-ever white koala joey by getting the public involved in the naming process. On the post announcing the zoo’s new arrival, commenters have so far suggested Pearl, Snowy, Luna, and Kao (from the Thai word for “white”) as names to match the baby’s immaculate appearance. There are also a few pop culture-related proposals, including Olaf after the character in Frozen and Daenerys in honor of Game of Thrones.

Instead of deciding the koala’s name by popular vote, the zoo will select the winner from their favorite submissions. And with nearly 5000 comments on the original Facebook post to choose from, the joey will hopefully have better luck than the animals named by the public before her. (The Koalay McKoala Face does have a certain ring to it.)

[h/t Mashable]

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9 Wild Facts About the Bronx Zoo
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Even if you’ve never set foot in New York, you almost certainly know of the Bronx Zoo. Opening its doors for the first time in 1899, this sprawling 250-acre wildlife reservation has over 4000 different animals and 650 species. Take a look at a few things you might not have known about one of the world’s most famous zoological retreats.

1. IT WAS CO-CREATED BY A TAXIDERMIST.

William Temple Hornaday was working as a taxidermist for the Smithsonian Institution when he noticed that the nation’s population of bison was shrinking. Eager to promote conservation efforts, Hornaday used his voice with the Smithsonian to spread the word about the threatened species. After a spat with the Institution, he was approached by the New York Zoological Society in 1896 to serve as director of the Bronx Zoo. In doing so, Hornaday helped bring the bison back from the brink of extinction by sending several of the Zoo's bison back out west in 1906. He remained with the zoo for 30 years.

2. IT ONCE HOUSED TASMANIAN TIGERS.

Thylacines, or Tasmanian tigers, were nearing extinction in the early 1900s, but the Bronx Zoo was able to acquire several for exhibition beginning in 1902. The first lived for six years; the next two, arriving in 1912 and 1916, lived only a short time in captivity before perishing. The zoo's last thylacine was secured in 1917. The species was thought to have died out in 1936, but in early 2017, several eyewitness accounts of the distinctive animals were reported in Australia. Zoologists are working to determine if the thylacine might still be alive.

3. THEY EXHIBITED A MAN.


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In the most ignoble chapter in the zoo’s history, organizers opened an attraction in 1906 that featured a "Mbuti pygmy” or “bushman”—an African man named Ota Benga. Benga and other tribesmen had been brought to America by anthropologist Samuel Verner at the behest of organizers of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair so visitors could gawk at them in mock-up villages. When the fair was over, Verner brought Benga and others back to Africa: the two struck up a friendship, and Benga reportedly asked to come back to the States. Verner approached the Bronx Zoo with the prospect of Benga becoming a fixture: Hornaday agreed to let him live on and roam the grounds. Public outrage followed, and Benga was released after just two weeks to the care of an orphanage. He committed suicide in 1916.

4. THE ZOOKEEPERS HAD TO BE TOLD NOT TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE BEARS.

Too much children’s literature about cuddly bears may have proven disastrous for early zookeepers at the park. In 1919, Hornaday told the New York Tribune that he had to constantly warn his employees not to try and befriend the mammoth bears housed on the property. Two keepers ignored his advice; both had to be pried from the clutches of the bear and suffered “severe” injuries.

5. IT’S HOME TO A REMNANT OF THE ICE AGE.

Not all of the Zoo’s attractions are feathered or furred. The Rocking Stone sits near the World of Darkness exhibit and packs 30 dense tons into a formation standing 7 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The boulder was carried by glaciers in the last Ice Age. The “rocking” label came from the fact that the stone was so perfectly balanced that it could be moved with slight pressure. The Zoo, fearing someone might one day push it too far, eventually shored up the base to keep it on firmer footing.

6. THEY ONCE SAVED A SPECIES OF TOAD THAT WAS DECLARED EXTINCT.

The kihansi spray toad was in dire circumstances in 2009: A hydroelectric dam in Tanzania had dried up mists showering a five-acre area near Kihansi Gorge, the toad's only known micro-habitat, and the species was officially declared extinct in the wild. Fortunately, Tanzanian authorities had seen the situation coming and allowed the Bronx Zoo to come in and obtain 499 toads to bring back to America. A portion went to the Toledo Zoo; both facilities spent nearly a decade breeding them in a captive assurance population. The Zoos replicated their habitat while Tanzania created a gravity-operated misting system that would restore water. Roughly 100 toads were returned in 2010 as test cases; a full-scale reintroduction followed in 2012.

7. A COBRA ONCE ESCAPED (AND SIGNED ONTO TWITTER).

A photograph of an Egyptian cobra
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Animal escapes have been few and far between at the Zoo. One of the most publicized was the the disappearance of a 20-inch venomous Egyptian cobra in 2011. Zoo officials weren’t certain how the reptile broke out of her habitat, but felt confident she would remain in the building. She did, and was found after a week’s search. In the interim, someone on Twitter engaged 203,000 followers with the freed snake’s fictional exploits. It’s still tweeting.

8. IT SET AN ORIGAMI ELEPHANT WORLD RECORD.

In 2016, the Zoo was recognized by Guinness World Records as having the largest displayed collection of origami elephants in the world: 78,564. The display, which was briefly open to the public, was intended to draw attention to the plight of the creatures and their poaching rivals through their 96 Elephants campaign meant to stop the trafficking of ivory. The Zoo is down to just three live elephants, and has vowed not to acquire any more once they pass. On August 3, 2017, Zoo organizers plan to crush two tons of ivory in Central Park as part of the awareness campaign.

9. IT HAS PLANS FOR YOUR POOP.

A shovel is stuck in a pile of fertilizer
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With thousands of daily visitors, the Bronx Zoo could probably make use of its own sewage system. Instead, the park unveiled an eco-friendly restroom on park grounds in 2006 that captures human waste and diverts it into compost. The system, which uses only six ounces of water per flush, is estimated to save a million gallons of water a year.

Want to learn more about the Bronx Zoo? Catch The Zoo, a documentary series now airing on Animal Planet. New episodes premiere in February.

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