Zoo Atlanta welcomes new white rhino

Zoo Atlanta welcomes new white rhino
Zoo Atlanta received a 4,300-pound special delivery on May 20, 2020, with the arrival of the first southern white rhinoceros ever to live at the Zoo in its 131 years. The rhino, a 9-year-old male named Mumbles, comes to Atlanta from the Houston Zoo in Texas. (Zoo Atlanta)

Zoo Atlanta received a 4,300-pound special delivery this week with the arrival of the first southern white rhinoceros ever to live at the zoo in its 131 years. The rhino, a 9-year-old male named Mumbles, comes to Atlanta from the Houston Zoo in Texas.

Mumbles, who will gain several hundred pounds before he reaches his full adult male weight of over 5,000 pounds, is the newest addition to Zoo Atlanta’s all-new African Savanna. He will settle in inside the indoor portion of his new home for around two weeks before exploring the outdoors, so he is not yet visible to guests. His habitat, which was formerly home to African elephants Kelly and Tara, has been under redesign for rhinos for several months, ever since shortly after the elephants moved to the new African Savanna complex.

“We are thrilled, at long last, to welcome our first southern white rhino to Atlanta. These are magnificent, charismatic animals that are icons of the savannas of Africa and key players in their ecosystems,” said Zoo Atlanta’s Hayley Murphy. “The conservation status of all rhinos carries great urgency, as we have already seen rhino species disappear in our lifetimes. We hope to help our visitors understand that there’s more they can do in their daily lives to preserve biodiversity beyond just not buying wildlife products.”

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While Zoo Atlanta has housed black rhinos, Mumbles’ species is a first for the zoo. White rhinos, which are the largest of the five rhino species, are not actually white, despite their name. The moniker is believed to have originated with the Afrikaans word wyd, meaning “wide” – a reference to the shape of white rhinos’ upper lips.

While poaching for their horns is a serious issue for all rhinos and has already resulted in the extinctions and near-extinctions of some species, southern white rhinos are especially vulnerable because they often travel in herds in the wild, a behavior that makes it easier for poachers to locate them. Powdered rhino horn is believed by some cultures to possess medical properties, although rhino horns are made of keratin – the same substance found in human hair and fingernails – and have no known medicinal value.

The African Savanna complex, which opened in August 2019, is home to new and expanded habitats for African elephants, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, warthogs and meerkats, and features an interpretive experience that highlights the intersecting conservation connections between animals and human activities.

Zoo Atlanta reopened to the public on Saturday, May 16, with new protocols and procedures in place to promote wellness and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The phased reopening includes timed ticketing to limit the capacity of guests in the zoo at a given time, a one-way experience that enables and encourages social distancing and temporary closure of all buildings and indoor experiences.