Anyone who has ever been to Vegas may know the feeling. After wandering down the Strip passing the faux Eiffel Tower of the Parisian and the canals of the Venetian Hotel, I find myself longing to be in the real Paris or Venice. Now while the Okavango exhibit at Virginia Zoo may be tastefully done, notwithstanding the plastic rocks, I start to feel empty and find myself imagining the majestic delta as it radiates through Botswana.
White rhino (David Macaulay)
Recently the zoo held a behind the scenes event for the media which I tagged along on. I was disappointed to find out much of the visit entailed a tour of emergency exits, but there was one highlight while I was standing in an area behind the pens, where the general public isn't allowed.
I heard a stomping noise, looked behind me and saw a gigantic white rhinoceros, separated from me by a flimsy metal fence. The rhino appeared to be docile and we crowded around it. "Can I ride it?" one girl asked a member of staff.
I shot one of those looks in the direction of her neat blonde bob, concluding she must have been a TV reporter. This wasn't exactly pony corner.
"They're not for riding," said the member of staff.
I'm not sure which rhino it was. The zoo used to have Rufus and Alfred, two males that had to be kept apart because they showed few signs of male bonding. Unfortunately, in 2008 a zookeeper failed to shut a gate and they charged each other. Two ton Rufus died from a ruptured liver, the local newspaper reported. Maybe I was staring at Alfred.
In 2004 Jesse, a female white rhino died at the zoo, when she was chased into a moat by a zebra and drowned.
The sad reality for the rhino is they face even greater danger in the wild, even though they have few natural predators.
The white rhino which lives in Africa is actually gray. The northern subspecies is critically endangered with as few as four remaining. White rhinos have been recorded weighing as much as 10,000 pounds.
The black rhino also lives in Africa. It's gray too but smaller than the white rhino and more bad tempered. Its head isn't as square. Numbers of the species declined from about 70,000 in the late 1960s to just over 2,400 in 1995.
A Rhino gets irritated with a tour bus
The Indian rhinoceros is the largest sub species in Asia. The Javan and Sumatran rhinos are smaller and the Sumatran is hairier. Neither attribute have saved them from the poachers. The demise of the rhinoceros is testimony to the greed and hubris of mankind.
Practitioners of Chinese medicine consider the horn an effective medicine against fever, although the aphrodisiac theory is largely myth. There's no evidence that the powdered horn alleviates fever and convulsion. In the meantime it seems this impressive animal has to die in large numbers to fuel a dubious theory that it might improve the well being of humans. Conscience doesn't come into the equation where there's a buck to be made. Almost 450 rhinos were killed for their horns in 2010 in South Africa alone. In Vietnam one horn can fetch a quarter of a million dollars. It's perhaps no coincidence that the Javan rhino is almost extinct in Vietnam.
A lot of people think rhinos are among the most dangerous animals in the world. A recent list of the most dangerous 25 lists them at number 23, one place below the tiny cone snail, a little bugger whose venom can end 20 lives in one shot.
The fact rhinos can weigh 2 tons; have poor eye sight and can reach speeds of 40 mph means it's not a great idea to run up behind them and let off a party popper in their armored rear ends. However, rhinos kill far fewer people than horrible hippos and African elephants.
Of course there are also fewer of them. The sobering reality is at some time in the future zoos are likely to be the only place we can see a rhinoceros.
Useless Fact About the Rhino
An odd legend that rhinos stop out fires has been doing the rounds in south east Asia for decades. The rhino has a mystical name that relates to fire in Malay. In the film The Gods Must be Crazy, an African rhino stomps out two fires. Reports that the Prodigy will be featuring a rhino in their new release Fire Stomper are yet to be confirmed.
What Not To Say to a Rhino
Maybe we should get the guys together.