Keepers at Taronga Western Plains Zoo have been caring for rhinos for over 30 years. When Greater One-horned Rhinos, Dora and Amala, arrived we had a steep learning curve. Greater One-Horned Rhinos not only look different but they also behave differently to African Rhino species. The challenge for us is to get every right to assist these animals in their breeding.
We have been preparing Dora and Amala for breeding over the last couple of years, neither of the Rhinos has bred before. Several introductions between the two Rhinos have been managed over the past 10 months, and whilst there have been no successful matings yet, each introduction we have seen new behaviours. Each introduction has allowed the animals to learn about each other and change their reaction to each situation. Typical breeding behaviour between Greater One-horned Rhinos involves a lot of pushing, shoving, biting and bellowing. Dora is almost 400 kgs heavier than Amala but she has held her own. When these two animals do get their act together and mate we will have a long anxious wait before the calf arrives as rhino gestation is about 16 months!
As keepers, we have a lot of close contact with both of our rhinos, every day I have to gauge how the rhinos are, what sort of mood they are in and decide how I am going to approach the day’s training and conditioning sessions. Dora and Amala have distinct personalities and I often have to use different approaches with them. Some days, if one of the rhinos is having a ‘bad day’ like we all do, I may leave them alone for the day, which is fine as we will pick up on the conditioning and training the next day.
Most people would not be aware of the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes with many of our animals. Some of our large animals go through daily training and conditioning to assist with monitoring their health or getting them ready to be transported to another Zoo, for example. We also enrich their lives and improve their health and welfare on a daily basis.
People often watch us work with our animals and are often amazed by what we do with these huge animals. A lot of what we do hinges on the trust we build with these animals and the fact that they know what to expect from us. Much of the training and conditioning is done to help us manage the animals. We are aiming to train Amala to accept the presence of our veterinary team and their equipment so when Amala falls pregnant we can monitor her progress.
Ian Anderson, Greater One-Horned Rhino Keeper