The BREC Baton Rouge Zoo's new Indian rhinoceros munched on hay and grain Friday morning, during a cooling sprinkle of rain. The 2-year-old female that weighed in earlier this year at a healthy 2,570 pounds is on exhibit now, but is still shy about making appearances, spending a good deal of time behind a wall, where she can go to feel more secure.
The Indian rhino represents the second species of rhinoceros living at the Baton Rouge Zoo, and the only Indian rhino in Louisiana. As the young female gets more accustomed to its surroundings, it will likely be easier to spot in its area, formerly occupied by the Asian elephant exhibit.
The new Indian rhino exhibit was made possible by a $150,000 donation from Friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo, to help make the exhibit suitable for the new species. The construction, completed in June, included renovations to the barn and exhibit area and new landscaping and walkway. The walkway includes temporary placement of the commemorative bricks purchased by donors for the Elephant Oasis.
Indian rhinoceros, which are native to the grasslands of India and Nepal, can be identified by their grey, armor-like skin and single horn. They are generally solitary mammals that spend their evenings grazing on tall grasses and other vegetation. Despite their poor eye sight, they possess a strong sense of smell and hearing.
It grasps tall grasses with its prehensile (gripping) lip and may also eat eat fruit, leaves, and sometimes farm crops. They are often around water and sometimes consume aquatic plants. Rhinos forage in the cooler temperatures s of morning and afternoon to avoid exerting themselves in the debilitating midday heat. When the sun is high, they often wallow or submerge themselves in water.
Currently identified as 'Vulnerable' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List, the biggest identified threats to the Indian rhino population in the wild include competition for food sources, as grasslands are converted into cultivated fields, and by poaching of the rhinos for their horns and other body parts.
Indian rhino population dropped to fewer than 100 animals in the early 1900's, but strict protection in India and Nepal, as well as zoo breeding programs, have been able to rehabilitate populations to more than 2,800 individuals.
The rhino's 'horn' is not a real horn, but thickly matted hair, consisting of Keratin, the same chemical substance that our finger nails and hair are made of. If a rhino's horn is broken off, it will grow back again. A rhino's horn grows all through its lifetime, at a rate of 1 - 3 inches per year.
The word rhinoceros, from Latin, and earlier, Greek, means 'horned nose.'
'We couldn’t be more thankful to our Friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo for helping us bring this magnificent species to Baton Rouge,' said Phil Frost, Director of the Baton Rouge Zoo. 'The Indian rhino has a very distinct appearance I think everyone will enjoy.'
'Eventually we hope to add a male Indian rhinoceros to the exhibit,' said Sam Winslow, Assistant Director and General Curator. 'However, it will still be a few more years until she’s ready for a mate. In the rhino world, she’s still considered pretty young.'