Classroom Connections: Feed a rhinoceros at Utah's Hogle Zoo

By Heather Tuttle

Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, June 17 2014 9:12 p.m. MDT

Marquel Whetton pets a rhinoceros at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Rhinos slobber when they eat. Not the “you just woke up and your pillow is sort of damp from your mouth hanging open all night” kind of drool. We’re talking "2-foot long strands of goo, use a mop to wipe your mouth" amount of slobber. They are noisy eaters as well. They take lip smacking to a whole new level.

After more than a year of training two white rhinos, siblings George and Princess, Utah’s Hogle Zoo is ready to let anyone 12 years or older purchase the opportunity to get up close to the second-largest land mammal. If you do, you will discover what it feels like to touch — as well as feed — them. Their hides are rough and covered in mud. Their ears are like a piece of thick soft leather, and under the folds of skin they are surprisingly soft.

The experience isn’t just fun, it’s educational, too. Primary elephant and rhino keeper Lauren LeCoque and elephant manager Eric Peterson took time to answer a few questions about these amazing beasts that were submitted to Deseret News from kids ages 4 and older.

Can a rhino regrow its horn? — Clive, 5

No. It cannot. There is so much that you can take it down, but it is not like an antler that they will shed and it is regrown. It is attached to the rhino’s head. It will grow 1 to 3 inches a year.

How big do their horns get? — Jackson, 5

It depends on the rhino. A male’s will have a thicker base. Size depends on how the rhino plays with its environment.

Why do they have horns? — Stan, 11

It is for protection. If a lion comes after a rhino, that is what they will use for protection.

What does the rhinoceros want for dinner? — Maya, 4

Their diet consists mostly of hay. They get about a full bale a day. And I try to come out once or twice a day with fresh produce for them: apples, oranges, bananas. They each eat about 100 pounds of food a day.

They drink about 10-15 gallons of water a day.

How long do baby rhinos stay with their moms? — Zion, 11

Usually about three years.

How big are their babies when they are born? — Alyssa, 7

Babies are anywhere between 100 and 160 pounds.

How long are they pregnant? — Heather

16 months

How fast can a rhino run? — Owen, 9

About 20-25 miles per hour.

How do they run? — Ben, 8

The cool thing about these guys is they single track. If you looked at each foot, it would be in alignment in a single line.

How much do rhinos weigh? — Amelia, 7

White rhinos are the largest species (of rhinos). Males average about 5,000 pounds.

How big are their teeth and what color are they? — Jackson, 5

They are brownish and have 24 flat molars. One tooth is a couple of inches in diameter.

Does the zoo brush their teeth? — Sean, 9

We don’t. The food that they are eating takes a lot of the plaque off.

Are they nice or mean? — Jackson, 5

They are very nice. Rhinos get a bad rap for being mean, but they are pretty nice.

How long does a rhino live? — Jackson, 5

Average life expectancy in the wild is an average of early 30s. In a zoo setting it is longer because we have such great health care for animals.

The biggest problem now for life expectancy is poaching (for their horns). It is really hard to retrain a culture that for thousands of years has used things like whale bladder, tiger blood and rhino horns for medicinal purposes.

How big is their poop? — Miles, 12

It is pretty big. We pick up a few hundred pounds each day. They eat a lot and they poop a lot.

In Africa you will see huge rhino mounds of poop, and that is like their calling card that "this is my territory." They are specific defecators. They will poop in one place.

Why is their skin gray? — Sean, 9

To blend in with their environment.

Why is their skin scaly? — Eliza, 9

They have pretty rough skin. They are build to withstand the heat.

How thick is their skin? — Heather

An inch to 2 inches thick.

Do they have packs? And how big are they if they do? — Eliza, 9

A pack of rhinos is called a crash. From what I’ve seen in Africa, it can be anywhere from two to seven.

Is it true rhinos have really bad eyesight and that’s why they charge and ram things? — Wendy

Absolutely. They don’t have very good eyesight or much peripheral vision. They have really big heads. So a lot of things scare them.

In the wild when they get scared, they bluff-charge and then run the other direction.

They have really good hearing and sense of smell to make up for it.

Are rhinos colorblind? — Ben, 8

I don’t know.

Do they swim? — Alyssa, 7

They wallow. They aren’t really set up with their little tiny legs to do much swimming.

How does a rhino sleep? — Ben, 8

They sleep lying down.

Are they smart? — Heather

They are not superintelligent. It’s been said that their nasal cavity is actually bigger than their brain.

Rhino population

There are five living species of rhinos. One rhino is poached every nine hours. All five species of rhino are in jeopardy of going extinct.

AFRICA: White rhino: 20,400

Black rhino: 5,000

ASIA: Javan rhino: 44

Sumatran rhino: 100

Indian rhino, aka greater one-horned rhino: 3,300

AAZK Bowling 4 RHINOS!

Hogle Zoo and the Utah Chapter of American Association of Zookeepers invite you to their annual fundraiser.

This is a fun family event that includes two games, all-you-can-eat snacks, pizza and soda. Free T-shirt and prizes with $50-plus in extra donations.

When: Friday, June 20, 5-9 p.m.

Where: Olympus Hills Bowling Lanes

Cost: $25 for adults, $10 for children under 10

100 percent of donations benefit rhino conservation

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