Happy Wednesday Everyone!
Today on Manhattan Skye let’s all say a big hallelujah to the Earth and I’ll tell you a quick little story time about my new friend Tony, a 16 year old Southern White Rhinoceros living at the Philadelphia Zoo (Originally from Texas, and named Antonio, he had to be called something a little more Philadelphia-ized).
Okay, now hear me out, I know it’s low-key twisted to be visiting a zoo on Earth Day, but that’s what went down and so obviously I had to make the best of it. Also, fun fact, rhinos have been my favorite animals since like the 5th grade and I was beyond thrilled to see that the zoo offered a behind the scenes tour with their very sweet rhino.
Also, a quick disclaimer** I am by no means advocating for rhinos as pets, although I do, and will continue to, describe Tony to you all as a big dog. I know and recognize that he is a wild animal, and that in my heart all animals like this belong in the wild; however, I cannot deny that experiences like these are special and may even be necessary to inspire a movement in people. Okay.. enough of that, let’s get to the main event: My main man, Tony. (:
Now, from the website you kind of get the gist that the rhino likes to be brushed but you don’t really get much else. I kind of went in with the mind set that I most likely wouldn’t be able to touch it directly with my hands and that the whole experience might be 10 minutes tops, but I’m so happy to say that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Basically, once there we were taken behind the gates and met with Tony’s keeper. She was eager to answer any questions from the group and definitely was an expert in rhinos, she was seriously able to answer anything! She then briefed us pretty quickly on how we should brush Tony once he comes over and that we were even encouraged to rub him with our hands as well if we wanted.
And just like that we were out and behind a few poles waiting for Tony’s arrival. His keeper told us that he’s trained by audio cues considering rhinos’ eyesight is so poor. So when she rings the bell, he’s expected to come to wherever the noise is. Honestly? It wasn’t looking good for a little while. Tony was just chilling in his area and was doing a pretty good job at ignoring his cue. I kind of had to get a laugh out of that though because they prefaced the meeting by saying he’s basically a big dog, and I know my dog at home would do the same thing. Whenever you want them to listen, they do the exact opposite..
But after the third bell ring, Tony was up and on his way over to us.
In addition to being taught to come in response to an audio cue, he’s also taught to stand at a certain distance from the barrier in order to get his behavior reinforced with pets. His keeper let us know that he isn’t particularly food motivated but that he really loves getting rubbed and that’s why we got to help with that; however, if Tony ever got too far from the poles we had to stop petting him so that he knew being at that length was wrong.
Being up close to a rhino is just so incredible. You see them in a way you never would just in pictures or videos alone. I noticed things like their eyelashes, the little hairs sticking up from his horn, the texture of his skin and how it changes from tough to soft depending on whether its on his back or face, and even how adorably shaped his big feet were.
After he had enough of our brushing on one side, Tony let us know it was time to switch it up and he did a little half circle so we could get the other side. He was just so sweet. Depending on where his face was, his keeper let us touch around his forehead and cheek area. He wasn’t a fan of his ears being scratched but they were just another thing about him that made me fall in love — the way they swiveled to their surrounding sounds and how he would react to beeping noises echoing throughout the zoo was just one of the things that would sometimes catch it attention. He was just so aware and smart, and had his very own personality. It was just the best. He was truly a big goober as his keeper might say.
His keeper also taught us how he rubs down his horn himself against the poles and the wood posts around his enclosure, as well as the little toys he has to push around. She showed us how depending upon the way he plays in his enclosure, how he also sometimes will hurt himself. More specifically, he uses his forehead to spar and sometimes will get little scrapes and scratches there because of it.
After plenty of pets, rubs, pictures, and memories it was sadly time to say goodbye to Tony. Since he had moved a little far from the poles we had to stand behind, we all shook his horn and thanked him for being so wonderful. We were led away from his enclosure and taken back into the main part of the zoo where we continued to enjoy the rest of our day.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time at the Philly Zoo. Honestly, there are moments that I do feel sad because an animals looks as though it wants to be somewhere else, but I have hope that they have keepers who care and want to do what is best for them despite the situation. It’s been such a long time since I had last been, that I forgot exactly what they had there and I truly loved getting to watch how the animals interacted with one another (especially the monkeys).
At the end of the day, if I could recommend anything to you all, it would just be to take the time to explore these animals more. They are in danger of becoming extinct and their protection is so important. So for the sake of wanting to show my great grandchildren one day the beautifulness that is the rhino (or whatever animal you may be passionate about) let’s all just take a moment to recognize what the problem is and try to make conscious decisions on how we can help/move forward.
I know this was a quick little story time, but it was such a fun experience that I wanted to let you all know! Maybe there are behind the scene tours at your local zoo, as well as ways to get involved in the preservation/conservation of species close to home! Let me know what you think in the comments below, as well as what your favorite animal is!
I’ll be seeing y’all in the next one, but..
Until next time,