Two rhinos arrive in new $ 17 million habitat at The Living Desert
Two young rhinos will soon be joining The Living Desert family, moving into a new $ 17 million, 4-acre habitat that is under construction right inside the entrance to the zoo.
Rhino Savanna will be a multispecies habitat with eastern black rhinos Jaali and Nia as the star inhabitants, which is expected to open in November.
Jaali (pronounced Jolly) is a 1.5 year old male from Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan. The name means “mighty” in Swahili.
Nia (pronounced Nya), which means “goal” in Swahili, is an almost 3-year-old female from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Cleveland, Ohio. Eastern black rhinos are listed as Critically Endangered with fewer than 5,600 across Africa.
Jaali and Nia were selected for the living desert through the breeding recommendations of the Zoo and Aquarium Species Survival Plan.
The new Rhino Savanna is part of a multi-phased, multi-million dollar plan for 10-year zoo additions and expansions. The first phase was the new $ 10 million admission area and infrastructure improvements, completed in 2019. The next phase will include a lion habitat and a special events center.
âWe are delighted to welcome Jaali and Nia to The Living Desert this fall,â said Allen Monroe, President and CEO of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. “This is the first time that The Living Desert will host rhinos, and the team has been working hard to prepare for their arrival.”
Jaali was born on December 24, 2019 to his mother, Doppsee, and father, Phineus, and his birth marked the first rhino birth at Potter Park Zoo in its 100-year history. Jaali is very curious and loves attention, according to her Potter Park Zoo animal care team.
Nia was born on August 20, 2018 to her mother, Inge, and father, Forrest. Her animal care team shared that Nia is smart and eager to learn and participate in her breeding training.
âWe can’t wait to introduce Jaali and Nia to their new home at The Living Desert,â said RoxAnna Breitigan, director of animal care at the zoo. âAs one of 25 establishments accredited by AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) to care for Eastern Black Rhinos, we are all working together to ensure this iconic species does not become extinct. These two have been strategically paired, and we have high hopes for their future breeding success here at The Living Desert. “
Rhinos are generally solitary creatures and don’t herd like some animals, Monroe said.
Because Nia and Jaali have never met, when they arrive at Living Desert the habitat is such that they will be kept physically separate for a while.
âThey will be able to see each other, but we won’t try to make introductions right away,â Monroe said.
It will take a few years before both reach breeding age. Females are usually 4-6 years old when their reproductive system is fully developed. Males can be anywhere from 7 to 10 years old, Monroe said Thursday morning as he walked and drove a golf cart through the habitat, pointing to the many features under construction – for animals and guests.
Create the right environment
In captivity, rhinos have a lifespan of 40 to 50 years, Monroe said, so it is expected that Nia and Jaali will stay with the zoo for a long time.
Included is a 3,000-square-foot covered care facility where Nia and Jaali will be brought at the end of each day, fed and slept at night, and received their medical care and exams, Monroe said.
It will include a variety of mobile stalls that can either give the rhino access to the entire area or be placed in a smaller space for medical care or the birthing area when the time comes, he said.
âAnything a rhino could want to call home,â will be provided in the habitat, Monroe said.
While rhinos come from dry, desert habitats, “we still provide them with basic comfort with foggers and fans, and even heaters to take out the winter chill in the morning,” Monroe said.
The living desert is moving away from the all-concrete living spaces that zoos have traditionally created for rhinos, Monroe said.
âThese concrete surfaces are much harder than natural soil and large animals, like rhinos, can get arthritis and joint problems when walking on concrete surfaces,â Monroe said. âSo we designed our rhino barn to have a natural substrate. “
Having that soft surface will improve the quality of life for rhinos throughout the habitat, Monroe said.
âThey won’t have to be kept on a hard court anywhere,â said Monroe.
The exhibit is designed to bring guests into the rhino world and as close to the animals as possible while keeping everyone at bay, Monroe said.
There is a rhino bridge over an underground passage that guests will use to enter the exhibit from the zoo admission area and a separate guest bridge that will connect guests to the nearby Giraffe Savannah .
A new cafe is also being built at the top of the bridge, next to the giraffe habitat, with an outdoor seating area where guests can enjoy the full view of the living desert and surrounding mountains, Monroe said. .
The Rhino Savanna is designed and built with state-of-the-art features that ensure animal welfare and care comes first, including wide meadows, rocky terraces and a mud pit and water trough, Monroe said.
It will also contain educational information so that guests can learn more about Eastern Black Rhinos.
The main threats to black rhinos are humans and poaching for their horns.
“Rhinos are iconic symbols of the wildlife trafficking crisis, and this new habitat will help us educate our clients about the plight of the rhino and allow us to continue our efforts to protect the black rhino in Africa,” said Monroe.
Native to the savannas and grasslands of southern and eastern Africa, black rhinos are browsers that feed on trees and bushes and exhibit distinctive features, including two horns, a prehensile lip, large cone-shaped ears, and thick skin. They can weigh over 3,000 pounds at maturity.
âAs a leader in desert conservation efforts, The Living Desert supports many projects to help build black rhino populations in southern Africa,â said James Danoff-Burg, zoo conservation director. “We are actively working in partnership with organizations to support innovative anti-poaching efforts, initiating education and community empowerment programs, and combating illegal wildlife trafficking in Africa and here at home. . “
There are 11 species of furry, feathered, and subterranean species new to the living desert that will join black rhinos in habitat, including springbok, water cob, pelicans, hairless mole rats, and mongoose.
Advance tickets required
The Living Desert is celebrating its 50th anniversary, interrupted last year by the COVID-19 pandemic which closed the zoo for several months. Since it reopened in July, occupancy has been reduced to meet state and county health and safety guidelines.
Tickets must be purchased in advance, even by members, to allow the zoo to stagger admissions. This practice could continue beyond the pandemic, Monroe said, as it helped limit crowd flow, giving guests a better experience.
The Living Desert, which spans over 80 acres in Palm Desert and Indian Wells, is home to over 450 animals and birds.
The zoo opened its Australian Adventures habitat, where visitors can walk among wallabies last summer.
The entrance to the zoo is at 47-900 Portola Ave., Palm Desert.
For tickets and more information on The Living Desert’s COVID-19 schedules, exhibits, programs and protocols, visit livingdesert.org. Parking is free.
Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the towns of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas