“A gentle giant (1900+kg), super chilled and a wonderful dad” is how our Ungulates keepers describe Zambezi, the Zoo’s 34-year-old male southern white rhinoceros who can regularly be seen enjoying an enriching mud wallow – rain or shine!

“Zambezi (now of an age considered geriatric for a rhino) has such a lovely nature and a great way of interacting with his very energetic offspring Nyah (3.5 years) and Amali (1.5 years) who keep him active and on his toes. They love to play fight and hang out and eat with their dad and will sometimes be a little annoying while he’s resting, but he’s always extremely patient and gentle towards them,” says Ungulates team leader Tommy.

Like all geriatric animals at Auckland Zoo, as part of the Zoo’s science of care and holistic approach to animal health and wellbeing, Zambezi receives an extra level of monitoring and health checks by our keepers and veterinary team. This includes regular weighs and body condition assessment, as well as regular blood and faecal sample analysis.

“Geriatric herbivores also receive regular dental check-ups. Herbivores are plant-eating animals (including horses, rhinos, and many others). These animals need to chew their food for many hours each day, so having healthy teeth and a comfortable mouth is really important,” says Auckland Zoo’s veterinary manager James.

“As these animals get older, it’s common for dental issues to occur as the teeth get worn, which can reduce their ability to eat normally. Fortunately, veterinarians with dental expertise can help manage these ageing teeth with regular check-ups and treatment. Zoo animals need to be anaesthetised for these checks, and so the Zoo veterinary team works with external veterinary dentists to provide the best possible care.

Zambezi has needed these regular general anaesthetic and dental treatment a number of times over the last few years to manage his ageing teeth issues. “Although there is no cure for these problems, with regular assessment, treatment and oral pain relief when needed, we can keep Zambezi’s mouth comfortable, allowing him to eat a normal diet,” explains James.

Along with Nyah, Amali and their mum Jamila (12), Zambezi plays a key role contributing to the Australasian zoos’ regional advocacy and breeding programme for this African rhino – the most socially gregarious of the five rhino species, and world’s second largest land animal.

“As keepers, we love being able to give our visitors the opportunity to experience Zambezi, Jamila and their daughters and learn about what makes rhino such an incredible species, and why we need to help ensure their future,” says Tommy.

“In the early 1900s southern white rhino were close to extinction until conservation efforts turned things around. However today, they’re still up against it (and classified as ‘Near Threatened’) primarily due to poaching for their horns, and loss and fragmentation of their savannah habitat.

“Sumatran rhino face the same threats, but are doing it way tougher with fewer than 80 individuals remaining in the wild. It’s why Auckland Zoo has become a strategic partner with the Sumatran Rhino Rescue Alliance – to support a ground-breaking emergency rescue and breeding programme to help increase the population.  Every time people visit us, they’re also supporting this vital conservation partnership to save this species from extinction,” says Tommy.

Find out more about how Auckland Zoo is helping rhino in the wild.