Regaining the rhinos:
Kosala was the most riotous of the two, toppling over an iron frame
and demolishing a red brick wall although it was Anula who wounded
herself, banging her head on the cage. For so many days afterwards they
couldn't stand each other.
Put yourself in their shoes after a five day, prolonged and agonizing
journey by plane, they reached their destination to find themselves in a
totally unfamiliar, land. The two new additions to the Dehiwala Zoo,
black rhinoceroses, now popular as Kosala and Anula arrived in pretty
bad shape, anxious and stressed out.
Kosala, the new baby rhino at the Zoological gardens
They were traded for a couple of Asian baby elephants from the Nagoya
Higashima Zoo, Japan. Kosala and Anula christened after the male and
female baby elephants are five and eight years old, respectively.
The word rhinoceros is derived from Greek, which means 'nose horn',
for their most distinctive feature, the nasal horn. Believe it or not
these horns are not horns at all, but are made of Keratin, the stuff
that makes up hair, nails and hooves.
It has no connection with the skull and grow through out life and are
regenerated if lost. In fact Kosala's horns were cut in half to prevent
difficulties during the five day journey. Another distinctive feature of
black rhinoceroses are their prehensile upper lip for grasping branches,
from which they get the name 'hooked-lipped rhino'.
They don't have incisors and canines. Black rhinoceros, although not
black at all, are brown, massive and can grow up to 2.9 to 3.1 metres
long and can weigh up to 0.9 to 1.3 tons. They have a life span of 40
years,. Female rhinoceroses give birth after a gestation period of 16
All rhinoceroses are solitary and primarily nocturnal grazers with
extremely thick, bare, folding skin. Shy animals by nature they can be
seen grazing during dawn and dusk. They spend their day wallowing in the
mud or dozing off. The mud acts as a seel against insects and the
scorching sun. They depend almost every day on water, but can go for up
to five days without going in search of a water hole.
They prefer to lead solitary lives except during the mating season
and are also highly territorial, marking their territory with dung and
urine. Black rhinos are known to be more aggressive and hostile than
They are one of the most rare and highly endangered species, found
only in the African continent, habitats ranging from Savannas and
mountainous regions of East Africa. The subspecies of Diceros biocornis,
which Kosala and Anula belong to, are exclusively East African.
Five rhinoceros species exist in the world today - Black rhinoceros,
white rhinoceros, Indian rhinoceros, Javan rhinoceros, and Sumatran
rhinoceros. Although to untrained eyes they may seem much alike,
migration to different continents at early epochs of evolution, has made
them evolve in to distinct species, adapted to different habitats,
climates, and feeding grounds.
They differ in both aspects of history and anatomy. Rhinoceroses are
not closely related to elephants although they may appear so in bulk,
and believe it or not their closest connection is with horses, asses and
tapirs; whom along with rhinoceroses belong to the Perissodactyla
(Odd-toed ungulates) order.
In fact the history of black rhinoceroses runs 12 million years deep.
Dicero bicornis genus, which Kosala and Anula belong to, emerged around
four to five million years ago.
Jack leaves have replaced Kosal
la and Anula's normal diet of oak leaves, in Japan where they were
born. Anula's favourite spot is near the wall of their enclosure.
Leaning over the wall Anula gives the impression that she's
uncomfortable and in distress.
But the veterinary surgeon of the Zoological Gardens, Dehiwala, Dr.
Jagath Jayasekera assured us that she was perfectly fine. He told the
Sunday Observer that the zoo got down two rhinos with procreation in
mind. "Since black rhinoceroses are extremely rare this has been an
exceptional opportunity for our zoo". But since the rhinos were from two
different zoos in Japan, it would take some time for them to get along
with each other.
"At first they couldn't even stand the sight of each other, so we had
to divide the two enclosures with a cloth separator. They were stressed
out at first because of the change in the environment and have tried to
hurt themselves," but he explained that they came around eventually.
"They must have first felt confined, after the spacious enclosures in
Japan. Unruly Kosala ate the Jack leaves enthusiastically as we watched
and the vet explained that he just started eating again after four days
of refusing almost everything. The rhino babies are now under
antibiotics and the vet assures that the wounds are already heeling.
Black rhinoceroses are a critically endangered species and with less
than 4000 individuals remaining in the wild, captive breeding has become
a vital part of rhinoceros conservation. Threats to wild rhinoceroses
include habitat loss and poaching.
This took a turn for the worse with the increase in the use of fire
arms - due to civil wars in Africa, the prize of rhino horns going up,
political intervention, poverty, corruption and ignorance. Unfortunately
their horns have a high medicinal value. Plus they are used to make
ornaments like dagger handles.
More over the superstitions surrounding the so-called magical powers
of rhino blood, body parts; and even urine, have added to their decline.
In fact black rhinoceroses were nearly wiped out of West Africa
because of poaching. The situation has gotten worse in the past few
years that the rhinos, like cheetahs are now experiencing what's called
a genetic bottleneck, where the number of wild rhinos are so low that
they tend to inbreed causing their immunity to deteriorate, there by
making rhinos susceptible to diseases.
This can be overcome by cross breeding wild animals with captives. A
critically endangered species with less than 4000 left in the wild, it's
highly imperative to keep their numbers on check. And exchange
programmes like the one that brought Kosala and Anula to Sri Lanka,
could very likely save them from the brink of extinction.