Meeting an “Auntie” and a Milestone
By Jonnie Capiro, Lead Keeper, Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Can you believe Edward is nearly three months old? It seems like we welcomed him into the world yesterday. He’s growing fast—he weighs 500 pounds!—and is developing a distinct personality. I’m happy to share that he continues to hit developmental milestones exactly the way he should.
Last week Edward experienced another exciting “first” at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park—he and Victoria shared the big yard with Helene, another rhino at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center. Before that, he’d only spent time with other rhinos during howdy sessions, face to face meetings through a barrier. He could see, hear, and smell them, but they were still “over there.”
Like most animals, rhino mothers are very protective of their babies, so howdy sessions are a great way to transition to full introductions. With a barrier between her baby and other members of the herd, Victoria was always sure of Edward’s safety. And Edward, who had never met a rhino other than his mom, got to make new friends in a non-intimidating way.
After Edward was born, it was important to give him and Victoria plenty of time and space to bond before we introduced other rhinos into their mother-son dynamic. Fortunately, Helene and the other rhinos always behaved beautifully when they howdied with Edward. They were calm, curious, and gentle, so we were optimistic that full introductions would go smoothly.
Out in the Big Yard
Helene was the obvious choice for Edward’s first meeting because she and Victoria are closely bonded and his howdy sessions with Helene went wonderfully. Edward seemed eager to meet other rhinos, so when Victoria showed us that she was comfortable with the howdies we knew she and Edward were ready for the next step.
I held my breath as we opened the door to let Helene into the big yard with Victoria and Edward. They had plenty of room and we were pretty sure it would go well, but we couldn’t know exactly what would happen. Helene emerged calmly. Victoria approached her, with Edward a few steps behind.
At first, Victoria was protective of Edward and wouldn’t let Helene get too close. She demonstrated typical mother rhino behavior and went head to head with Helene, backing her away. Edward watched, trotting after them and slowly getting closer. Helene was patient and understanding—she gave Victoria time to get comfortable and waited for the signal that she was ready to share Edward.
Victoria realized pretty quickly that there was nothing to be afraid of. When she let Helene begin to approach, Edward ran right up to his “auntie.” By the end of the meeting Helene and Edward were nuzzling and touching and Victoria was totally at ease. In fact, she watched calmly as Helene and Edward frolicked around the yard together. Edward’s first introduction went perfectly!
Over the next few months, we’ll gradually introduce Edward to the other rhinos at the Rescue Center and I can’t wait to share those updates with you. Thank you so much for your continued support.