Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – August Story

Zohari trying to enjoy a mud bath, but...

As I've discussed previously on this blog, I love penguins. Since I've been Volunteering and working at the Toronto Zoo, I've come to be quite fond of the polar bears, too. And then, of course, there's my "Spirit Animal": the glorious Ashakiran, Indian rhino. I do not recall feeling particularly strongly either way about these mammoth, docile creatures just a few years ago; however, things have certainly changed. For instance, some of the proceeds from the 2016 Calendar went to the International Rhino Foundation; $511 CD was raised all told for this worthy cause. So obviously one of the months of this calendar was going to feature one or more of the rhinos at the Toronto Zoo. The question then became: which subspecies to choose this year. After much agonizing, I settled on the photo of Zohari (seen above), one of the four African white rhinos that call the Zoo's Savanna exhibit their home. She won out mainly on the strength of the expression on her face as she seems to be looking directly at me while enjoying a leisurely mud wallow in the heat of a July day.

But, as usual, that's not the whole story here. 

Big sister Sabi checking on her sibling
Zohari came to the Zoo a few years ago along with her older half-sister, Sabi. They have remained fiercely protective of each other ever since arriving: I vividly recall taking an "observation" shift when they first went on exhibit and spending the better part of three hours "observing" them stand bum-to-bum in a "circle the wagons" sort of pose, ready to fend off all peril – real or imagined. Most of us find this tendency of theirs rather adorable; sadly, however, the perpetually befuddled and [*ahem*]-blocked Tom probably does not share this view. The girls cycle at different times but the sister who is not in oestrus spends most of her time "protecting" her sibling by warding off the attempted advances of the bull – often challenging him nose-to-nose. As you can see by the photo here (above left), Sabi is extremely interested in Zohari's, um....back end. She is trying to uncover whether her younger half-sister needs her to run interference and Zohari is seemingly looking to keep this secret to herself by heading to a mud-hole and submerged her nethers in it. But as this scene plays out – and I zoom in tightly on Zohari – Sabi grows frustrated ("Frustrated!" I can hear Tom exclaim. "Boy, let me tell you a little something about being frustrated..."), lowers her head, and begins to goose poor Zoey in the tender hindquarters. What you are in fact witnessing in the photo I used in the calendar is not a moment of blissful relaxation in the cool of a muddy wallow, but rather a startled rhino in the act of scrambling to her feet to avoid further indignities being inflicted on her by a persistent older sib. The shot is wonderful, I think, just not for the reasons you might expect.

As this brief slice of savanna life continued to play itself out, Zohari got out of the wallow and sashayed alluringly toward her would-be suitor, while Sabi now had the moment she had been waiting for to fully and unashamedly inspect Zohari's rear end for the tell-tale scents of oestrus, Once Sabi had the information she needed she went into action....

....aggressively and threateningly advancing on the hapless, outnumbered young bull, chasing him off the trail for the moment....

..and making good and sure he fled the scene completely, and didn't try an "end run", as it were. All of which goes a long way to explain why Nandu is the only rhino calf at the Zoo right now and the first one born in Toronto in 16 years.

As for the tragic hero of our story?

Oh, come on, He's a guy. Don't pretend you're surprised.

By the way, the African "white" rhinoceros is not actually white; the most popular theory on how it received its name is that it's a mistranslation of a Dutch or Afrikaans word "wyd" (spellings vary) referring to the animal's "wide", square mouth. This has not been proven, though. But it does seem that the "black" rhino – which is smaller but does not differ in colour – was named as such purely to differentiate it from the "white" rhino. Both African rhino species have two horns while the three that dwell in Asia – the Javan, the Sumatran, and the Indian (or greater one-horn) – possess only one. It is likely for this reason that the African rhinos are more frequently poached for their horns than the Asians: more "bang for your buck" with two horns versus one. Either way, they are all disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate because of the mistaken belief that their horns contain some magical medicinal properties. In point of fact their horns are made of keratin – a protein that makes up hair and fingernails in humans – and you would receive at least as much "magic" from simply biting your own nails. A tragedy for the ages. And as I write this post – on July 31st – it just happens to be World Ranger Day, celebrating the very brave and dedicated men and women currently on the front lines of a very real war against the ruthless and greedy poachers of the world. They are big, big heroes of mine.

Well, that escalated quickly. My apologies, but this is a subject quite near and dear to my heart. Let me raise the mood as I finish up by telling you that next month will feature the hilarious antics of one of my two favourite "Samsons" at the Toronto Zoo.

♫See yoooouuuu in Septeeeeemmmmbeeerrrrr....♫
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