For those who don’t know, I am doing a course in zoo-keeping and this week was my first week of prac at the zoo. It was a really full-on week working with black rhinos and I was looking forward to a lovely sleep-in this morning. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. So here I am!
My brother’s words of wisdom the day before I started prac were, ‘If a rhino charges you, charge it back!’ My husband told me I should take the rhinos dandelions! (You have to have seen Ice Age to understand!) I ignored both of these suggestions and somehow survived without getting tackled by any rhinos!
My first day of prac was like a crash course in zoo-keeping and rhinos. So much information to absorb all in one day! I didn’t know an awful lot about rhinos before I started, but by the end of the day my brain was clogged with rhino information! Somehow I got through it all and by the end of the week I actually knew what was going on!
My husband asked me what I did all day with the rhinos. Well…I discovered that they are eating machines. They get fed first thing in the morning, they get fed at the keeper talk, they get fed after morning tea, they get fed after lunch! And feeding ten rhinos takes a long time! (The keepers also have to cut tree branches for them – 3 branches a day each for ten rhinos = 30 branches! And cutting them takes a long time!)
The next thing I discovered was that they like to make a mess. They move their nice clean hay out of their feeding troughs and drag it through the dirt and then the keepers have to come and rake it up. Some of the rhinos are particularly messy and it looks like a hay bomb has exploded! And cleaning up after ten rhinos takes a long time!
Another discovery I made was that what goes in must come out! Since they eat so much, they also poo an awful lot! I was told the approximate weight of a rhino poo is about 35kg (it varies of course depending on how much they eat). And after shoveling ten times that onto a trailer all week I believe it! Fortunately rhino poo is not the worst kind of poo – it is pretty much munched up grass, so shoveling large amounts of it is not as bad as it seems. However, shoveling ten rhinos’ poo takes a long time!
The other thing I discovered was that rhinos actually get trained. They are taught to do various things – coming to their keepers, leaning against the fence, touching specific targets, putting their foot up on a box (to give access to draw blood), putting up with being touched all over, and one even knows how to move a log on command! Some days they act half asleep and don’t cooperate, but it is all a work in progress.
So that is pretty much what I did all day! At the end of the week, after listening to all the info and all the keeper talks through the week, I did the keeper talk on Friday! It was somewhat nerve-racking, but I was allowed to take notes and the people were really nice and supportive and didn’t leave or throw tomatoes!
In my week with the black rhinos, I learnt to love their cheeky personalities, and their annoying slowness when they decide to be stubborn. (Pretty much everything takes forever with rhinos – they are ridiculously slow until they are angry or scared.) They make funny little noises when they are hungry and when they are frightened they run around in a panic with their tails sticking straight up. They are really cool creatures, but most of all, they are God’s creatures. And they are in trouble.
It is heart-breaking to learn about how endangered rhinos are (there are only about 4,800 black rhinos left!) and how cruel poachers can be. So far this year, 203 black and white rhinos have been killed in South Africa alone! And they don’t kill them humanely either. It is really horrible.
I can’t wait for Heaven, when the rhinos can be cheeky and slow and make funny noises in peace! And when we can all appreciate the true beauty of God’s creation.