Hundreds of extraordinary animal species live at Burgers' Zoo. European population management programmes for endangered species regularly involve exchanges of animals between zoos across Europe (and sometimes beyond). There is a lot involved in planning and organising this type of transportation, including taking into account the natural behaviour and specific characteristics of an animal species, which also play a significant role in the process. In this series, we highlight several special animal transports. This time: the rhinoceros.
For several years, Burgers' Zoo has been one of the top five European breeders of square-lipped rhinoceros, also known as white rhinos. This has led to rhinos regularly being transported from our zoo to other zoos in Europe. A rhinoceros is an enormously heavy animal—adult cows weigh around two thousand kilos, while adult bulls can weigh up to three thousand kilos. So first of all, as a transporter, you need a specially equipped heavy truck!
Rhinoceros calves leave their mother at around three years of age. When the time comes, the European population management programme coordinator advises where the young animal should go. The European square-lipped rhinoceros population management programme is coordinated by our colleague zoo, Safaripark Beekse Bergen in Hilvarenbeek, the Netherlands. In the wild, bulls leave their mothers at around the same age. Square-lipped rhinoceros cows will sometimes form groups, and it is common for a mother to live together with some older female calves or other closely related cows.
Bulls live solitary lives and only show temporary interest in cows during the mating season. They deposit dung piles along the borders of their territory as a signal to other bulls. Their territory usually overlaps the territory of multiple cows. At Burgers' Zoo, we always make sure to move young bulls before they come into conflict with their father, and young cows before there is a risk of them mating with their father (inbreeding prevention). A young cow that stays with her mother often does not develop a cycle (social hormonal suppression); young cows in a different environment do get into a cycle and can be mated.
It is no surprise that a rhinoceros transport crate must be strong and able to bear considerable weight. The front of the crate has sturdy bars so that the animal can see out. When the animal is in the crate, the crate is carefully lifted onto the transport truck with a large, heavy loader. Transporters specialising in transporting zoo animals often have their own trucks available for this purpose and have also designed the transport crate themselves according to all modern requirements.
On the transport day, the vet gives the rhinoceros half an anaesthetic. The animal becomes disoriented and calmly walks into the crate without stress. Luckily, we don't have to lift the animal to put it in the crate. Lifting a young animal of about 1,000 kg or an adult animal of about 2,000 kg is almost impossible. Once in the crate, the animal is injected with a short-acting tranquilliser and a long-acting antipsychotic. The former ensures that the animal remains calm; the antipsychotic drug is intended to make it less sensitive to stressful stimuli, which is handy for the journey and the introduction period in its new environment. After a final check, a reversal agent is administered to reverse the effects of the anaesthetic and allow the animal to travel safely. Bon voyage!
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