By Serena Caunce - one of our dedicated Zookeepers here at the Zoo!
"Good morning Charlie!" I say as I flick on the lights in the barn and two large ears point my way.
Charlie is the Greater Vancouver Zoo's oldest and largest animal, a Southern White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simun simun). Charlie came to us on September 22, 1998 from the Okanagan Game Farm. Charlie moved to North America at a young age in 1973 and has lived his life in three other zoos. If the GVZoo is lucky, we will see Charlie live up to 50 years of age.
Charlie was born in approximately 1971 at the Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa where a stable population of over 11,000 Southern White Rhinoceros reside. This population has successfully come back from a low of 50 individuals, and is now the site of breeding and conservation to repopulate other areas of Africa including Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique. The current conservation status of Southern White Rhinoceros is near threatened, with approximately 11,640 individuals in the wild in 2005 and over 700 in captivity.
Of the five remaining species of Rhino, the White Rhinoceros is the most abundant and also the largest. Therefore they are the third largest land mammal in the world, weighing between 4,000 and 6,600 pounds. The decline of the populations of all species is due to the impact of humans, and it does not help that the birth interval is very low, between two and a half to three years for the White Rhino. Rhinos are hunted for their horns which are more pricey than gold, but only consist of a protein, keratin, also found in our own hair and finger nails. Some people have organized non-lethal horn removal in order to deter poachers. Human destruction of appropriate habitat for these animals has also helped the decline.
As for Charlie, you will find him on a nice day grazing or resting in his yard, but just like many of us he has complaints about our rain and on those days will be relaxing in his barn. The one thing that Charlie rarely does is go outside without some scratches from his keepers, and just like a puppy he will roll to his side and lift his leg to get his belly rubbed. The species are more social than others living in groups of three to ten; however males are solitary and territorial.
White Rhinos are not really white, nor are Black Rhinos black, but the colour of the soil in which White Rhinos roll in is pale and high in calcium. They are better to be known as square-lipped rhinoceros, and they are the only grazing Rhinos, eating grass as opposed to browsing shrubs and trees. So Charlie gets a combination diet of grass hay and concentrated grain feed similar to a horse, as both species are hind-gut fermenters. He also receives the occasional apple for a treat. On top of his grain he is supplemented with glucosamine to help with his arthritis, and it seems to help him get up early in the morning.
In the evening Charlie comes in for his dinner and lies down in his freshly made bed of hay. "Good night Charlie! See you tomorrow!" I say as I flick off the lights to the barn. Charlie lets out a big sigh as if to say that he knows.