Baby Aziza with her mother, Anna, at Lion Country Safari. Photo by Lion Country Safari
As a happy coincidence, a rare white rhinoceros was born at Lion Country Safari on Sept. 22 — an amazing way to celebrate World Rhinoceros Day.
The Loxahatchee drive-through safari park welcomed Aziza, a female southern white rhino calf. The birth contributes to worldwide conservation efforts for rhinoceroses, which are at risk because of a shrinking habitat and poaching. Some poachers target rhinos for their horns, which are used for medicinal purposes, while others hunt rhinos for trophies.
The calf was named Aziza, meaning “precious,” to reflect the dire situation for rhinos.
“The birth of Aziza on World Rhino Day really helps to bring awareness to the public about conserving the rhino species,” said Haley Passeser, a spokeswoman for Lion Country Safari. “Our mission is to be a leader in animal care, conservation and education to inspire people through connections with wildlife in a fun, family-friendly environment. We truly are deeply committed to animal care, conservation and education, and we have a phenomenal team of dedicated and passionate individuals that make all of this possible.”
Five rhino species are threatened: white, black, Sumatran, Indian and Javan. White rhinos, also known as square-lipped rhinos, are the larger of the two African species and weigh 4,000 to 6,000 pounds. Approximately 20,000 white rhinos exist, more than the other species, but poaching continues to place them in jeopardy.
The Sumatran rhino has been on earth longer than any other living mammal, but there are now fewer than 80 are left on the planet. Just 75 Javan rhinos remain in Indonesia, arguably making them the rarest large mammals.
The first white rhino arrived at Lion Country Safari in the 1970s when the world had fewer than 1,000 rhinos. Fourteen white rhinos now live at the 600-acre Loxahatchee safari park: 11 females and three males. One is Aziza’s father, Chitabe, and the oldest white rhino at the park is Aziza’s great-grandfather Buck, who arrived in 1972.
Aziza is the second calf for 8-year-old Anna, who has proved to be a caring mother.
Females generally give birth for the first time at the age of 6 or 7.
“It is definitely possible that she may have another calf in the future, though if and when it does occur, it wouldn’t be for at least a couple of years or more and is up to her,” said Passeser.
Aziza is the 37th rhino born at Lion Country Safari since 1979. At birth, white rhinos weigh between 88 and 132 pounds. They stand up within an hour and begin grazing at 2 months old.
Aziza gains 3 to 4 pounds daily from her mother’s milk and now weighs around 250 pounds. She is expected to gain 1,000 pounds each year for the first three years of her life.
“Aziza is doing really well. She’s gained at least 150 pounds since her birth, so she’s growing really well. She’s curious, is getting to know her care staff and is definitely a little spunky,” Passeser said.
Worldwide conservation efforts add diversity to the gene pool for a healthier rhino population. Lion Country Safari works with the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums to ensure the survival of the species. The national effort brings in male rhinos that are strong matches with females to produce offspring with valuable genetics for the healthiest population.
White rhinos are surprisingly agile and can run up to 25 miles per hour for short periods. They wallow in the mud to stay cool, protect themselves from the sun and repel insects. Rhinos have poor eyesight but acute senses of smell and hearing. They feed on grass and live about 50 years.
White rhinos are found in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and other African countries. Like the other African species, the black rhino, they actually are gray.
Save the Rhino reports that poaching reached an all-time high in the past decade; 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014, more than three rhinos every single day. To combat the problem, Save the Rhino shares information, champions community conservation efforts and holds events to reduce illegal trade.
The Lion Country Safari rhino conservation program is part of a worldwide effort to save the majestic animals. There is currently a steady decline in hunting cases and a significant rise in the white rhino population. Conservation efforts like the White Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan and the Save the Rhino organization, headquartered in London, are combatting the problem head on.
Also at Lion Country Safari, the upcoming annual Christmas With the Chimps event will merge holiday cheer with safari fun and education.
Santa delivers presents by boat to the park’s chimpanzees. The chimps suit up for their meeting with Santa and groom one another. Santa gives the chimps stuffed animals, clothes, treats and toys that enrich their intelligence. As soon as Lion Country Safari workers set up the decorations in preparation for Santa, the chimps hug, smile and yell in excitement.
A portion of the event’s proceeds will support preservation efforts for chimps in the wild. For more information, call 561-793-1084, or visit www.lioncountrysafari.com.