NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Like elephants, rhinoceroses have both African and Asian species.
The Southern White Rhinos you can see at the Nashville Zoo are from Africa. But, they aren’t white.
“They are grey when they are born, the same as a black rhino. But there was a misinterpretation of the Dutch word for ‘wide’, because they have those wide lips. And the English interpreted the word ‘wide’ as ‘white,'” said Jason Faessler, Nashville Zoo Hoofstock Keeper.
Those wide lips are helpful for their diet. Unlike their counterparts, who have a prehensile upper lip used for pulling branches out of trees, white rhinos’ wide lips help maximize their bite on the grass.
Like many other wild animals, their numbers have been decreasing.
“White rhinos are the best of the five species number wise. There are about 17,000 left on the planet,” said Faessler. “Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, their numbers were up to over 20,000. So, poaching is still a big problem in Africa, particularly. And unfortunately, it is because of an old wives’ tale that rhino horn has medicinal value, or is an aphrodisiac, and fever reducer. It’s just keratin.”
Keratin is the same material human hair and fingernails are made of. The myth has been the cause of the declining numbers and status as an endangered species.
White rhinos are unique because the females are the only ones that live together socially.
“Females will live together in a group called a ‘crash’. Males will have a territory with a number of different crashes on it. And the females will generally keep the male away until they’re ready to breed. And then they’ll go and solicit the male. So, it’s a pretty lonely lifestyle for a male white rhino.”
One thing rhinos love is mud.
“Mud wallow is their favorite thing to do. They’ll get in there and wallow three of four times a day, depending on how hot it is or how cold it is.” Faessler continued, “Generally, whatever color their mud is, that’s what color your rhino’s going to be.”
When threatened, rhinos can look mean, but in reality, they’re more like big puppy dogs.
“I can actually get all five of them to lay down just by scratching on the inside of their back thigh. Their tail will curl up and their knee will start to buckle and they’ll kick that leg out and eventually, they’ll lay down and roll over and want you to rub their belly, just like a Labrador,” said Faessler.
You can Nashville Zoo’s crash of rhinos on the African Savannah.
News 2 has partnered with Nashville Zoo to bring you weekly segments of Zoopalooza. You can watch them on News 2 on Good Morning Nashville on Saturday and right here on WKRN.com.