For the first time in its 118-year history, rhinos are coming to the Woodland Park Zoo.
The zoo is in line to receive a captive-bred pair of greater one-horned rhinoceroses in 2018, possibly as early as March, with the animals expected to be on view to the public by May, said Gigi Allianic, spokeswoman for the zoo.
The animals would be on loan to Woodland Park for up to two years, she said. The zoo will be sourcing rhinos from accredited facilities in North America that are as yet undetermined, Allianic said.
The rhinos will be of an age when they would normally be dispersing from their mothers.
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The zoo anticipates creating a home for two males from two separate facilities. The pair is expected to be 18 to 24 months old – so young they won’t yet have their horns.
The purpose of the exhibit is to educate the public about the plight of rhinos in the wild, where they have diminished to only about 3,500 animals, mostly in two parks in India and Nepal. Poaching remains a major threat to their survival.
The zoo hopes the exhibit will not only be a thrill for visitors who have never had a chance to see a rhino up close, but also shed light on the animals’ struggle for survival in the wild.
The rhinos will be housed in the exhibit area formerly used by the zoo’s elephants. That exhibit was closed in 2015 and has been vacant since, Allianic said.
Alyne Fortgans, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants helped lead the 10-year campaign to close the exhibit and move the zoo’s elephants, Bamboo and Chai, to a sanctuary. Instead they ultimately were moved to the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Chai has since died, but Bamboo lives on in Oklahoma.
Fortgans disagreed with Woodland Park’s plan to bring rhinos to Seattle.
“It’s the wrong climate, the wrong environment, the wrong everything,” Fortgans said. “We are opposed to increasing the number of wild animals in zoo captivity.”
She said the zoo should spend the money going toward a rhino exhibit at Woodland Park to their conservation in the wild.
Allianic said the rhinos, which love water, will have access to a pool and mud wallow in their roughly 1-acre exhibit. The zoo will likely feed them a diet of leaves, fruits and plants.
The so-called Assam Rhino Reserve the zoo is creating is intended to spotlight not only the issue of wild-animal trafficking but also another extinction crisis.
Along with the rhinos, the zoo intends to house male and female Asian brown tortoises in the reserve.
The tortoises have been at the zoo in temporary housing after being displaced by a fire last December that damaged the Day and Night Exhibit.