Monday, January 25, 2010

Scratching the Rhino

Monday, January 25, 2010

The special surprise offered to participants in The Ohio Ornithological Society's Wilds Winter Birding Extravaganza on Saturday, January 16, was a trip behind the scenes at this endangered animal breeding and research facility. Where behind the scenes? To the rhino building to see the southern white rhinoceroses, including Anan the new baby rhino born last Halloween! This was perhaps the only thing that got our kids to go along on the trip—the promise of seeing rhinos up close.
Anan and her mom.

After a bit of bus hopping and a short introductory talk from The Wilds' rhino experts, we were ushered into one of the two rhino barns, tucked deep in a valley, and surrounded by industrial-strength, rhino-proof fencing.

We were told we could touch the rhinos—that they even liked it! But that we needed to be very careful when sticking our appendages through the metal pipe fence lest a rhino accidentally lean toward us and pin our body parts against the fence.

Clearly these animals were used to humans and approached our curious group for a closer look.
SO MASSIVE! My gosh these things look and feel like armored tanks, but their eyes are soft and small.Look at the massive feet on these surprisingly mobile and nimble mammals.

We all took turns petting, scratching, and admiring the rhinos as they stood next to our reaching hands.
The rhino skin was hard and dusty, like mud-spattered heavy canvas overlaying concrete.

Anan made her appearance, walking right up to Julie and Liam. Julie, of course, kissed her right on the snout. Watch for her blog post soon, likely titled "Frenching the Rhino."

But Zick The Animal Charmer did not stop there. Oh noooo. As soon as the mama rhino came over to be scratched, Julie began scratching her inside a giant crease in her skin on the flank in front of the hind legs.

The rhino gave many signs that this felt good: leaning in closer, relaxing her skin to let Julie scratch more deeply, exhaling deeply, breaking rhino wind (true!), and finally, as if feeling the ultimate in relaxation, dropping slowly to the ground.

But Julie was not the only one with a special connection to these animals.

Liam immediately felt he had "special rhino powers" much like the "special gorilla powers" he experienced at The Columbus Zoo (which is affiliated with The Wilds). Who were we to disagree, when we saw how the adult female rhino seemed attracted to Liam, and how calmly he stood there petting and talking to her, when others in our group backed away?

Phoebe would be mad if I did not include her rhino photo here, too. And since she and I are about to spend a week at a birding festival together I need to stay on her good side.

Even I got a chance to scratch the rhino, and I really dug it.
What a completely cool addition to our winter birding adventure at the Wilds. I've still got a buzz from those rhinos. So much so that I am thinking of changing this blog to Bill of the Rhinos. What do you think?


On January 25, 2010 at 1:27 PM Anonymous said...

What an awesome experience. Thanks for sharing.
Lynda in Michigan

On January 25, 2010 at 5:09 PM Anonymous said...

Great entry, Bill--what a place for family fun! Nice piece on WOUB that Fred Kight did on the Wilds trip today, but he didn't mention the rhinos....
I just had a red-shouldered lingering (again) near my feeders; everyone has to eat, as my mother used to say.

On January 25, 2010 at 5:32 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

I found the sweet spot fer sure.

On January 25, 2010 at 5:42 PM Erik said...

I loved how they acted like giant lap dogs when they were being scratched. One of the juveniles was laying on his side right up against the bars. As we scratched, the hind leg that was in the air starting waving like a puppy. Way too much fun for one day.

On January 25, 2010 at 6:36 PM OpposableChums said...

I just assumed that "scratching the rhino" was a euphemism for something.

"Man, I really scratched the rhino last night!"

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Endangered species: Rhino: If they're gone, they're gone forever