One of the most elderly residents of the North Carolina Zoo, a Southern white rhinoceros named Olivia who has been at the park for 35 years, has died.
Olivia was 54.
She came to the zoo in 1987 with a friendly male rhino named Stanley. The hope at the time was that the couple would produce offspring.
They didn’t, but the pair lived together at the zoo, remaining there after they went into retirement and moved into the rhino annex, where they were off public view but still cared for by zoo staff.
‘Great Auntie’ to other rhinos
According to a Friday news release, after Stan died in 2019 at the age of 49, Olivia was returned to the Watani Grasslands, a 40-acre exhibit occupied by rhinos, elephants, antelope, gazelles, waterbucks, ostriches and greater kudu. There, keepers said, Olivia rejoined the rhino social group — called a crash — and took on the role of “Great Auntie” to the younger members.
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“Due to her significantly advanced age, we have been closely monitoring Olivia for any signs of declining health for the past few years,” said Dr. Jb Minter, the zoo’s director of Animal Health and chief veterinarian said in the release. “The culmination of several health conditions led to a significant decrease in her quality of life and her ability to get around comfortably.”
Animal care and veterinary team members made the difficult decision to euthanize Olivia, the zoo said in the release. She died on Thursday.
According to the conservation group Save the Rhino, 174 zoos worldwide hold 671 Southern white rhinos.
As one of the oldest female rhinos in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums venues, according to the release, Olivia served as an ambassador for the plight of rhinos in the wild, whose populations are threatened by poaching and habitat loss. Wild Southern white rhinos usually live into their early 30s. Under human care, many have been known to live into their early 40s.
The zoo said Olivia’s age of 54 is a testament to the extraordinary care she received through the years.
Southern white rhinos are the second-largest land mammal after elephants. They have two horns, grow up to 13 feet long and can be as tall as 6 feet from hoof to shoulder. Mature Southern white rhinos can weigh 5,000 pounds.
Olivia was relatively petite at 3,200 pounds.
‘Her sassy attitude’
“I will certainly miss Liv and her sassy attitude,” Zookeeper Anna Hinson, who cared for Olivia for several years, said in the release. “Over the years, she mellowed quite a bit, and I wish the Zoo’s newer keepers had been around to see ol’ Liv in her prime. Even in her golden years, it’s truly remarkable how she stuck to her routine. I’ll forever be richer for having worked with her.”
Southern white rhinos were hunted to near extinction by the beginning of the 20th century for their horns. Today, there are an estimated 19,000 to 21,000 Southern white rhinos in the wild.
They are found almost exclusively in southern Africa.
The N.C. Zoo is involved in conservation projects in several countries in Southern Africa to save the species.