Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chillin' with the rhinos at Lincoln Park Zoo

Unless you're a visiting scientist, or working on behalf of science, animal welfare or conservation, it's nearly impossible to get behind the scenes on a summer day at Lincoln Park Zoo.

But every once in a while it pays off to be an exhibit developer. On a recent sweltering afternoon, we at Museum Explorer found ourselves inside an enclosure, gazing face-to-horn with the zoo's two large male rhinos and trying to wrap our brains around rhino ways as we gear up to develop new interactive interpretive signage for LPZ.

We spent almost an hour with the rhinos, some of it literally hands-on, as we got a feel for what they're like. We patted their heads, touched their massive horns (which felt kind of like giant toenails, in case you were wondering) and stroked their immense flanks. Petting those powerful flanks was like rubbing your hand across a hot sidewalk, dense and dry and rough.

During our visit, we learned that rhinos love to munch on bright green golf-ball-sized food pellets that are surely made from some sort of super-concentrated healthful rhinoceros nutrients. After the main course, their keepers let us offer the rhinos handfuls of alfalfa. Those long rhino lips nibbled skillfully around our hands to pluck out the alfalfa stems, more nimbly than our own human fingers could have done it.

And what goes in . . . comes out. In a big way. Amazingly, the rhinos themselves are pretty much odor-free. But their poop is another story. Mostly it's just huge, as in XXXXL. Each rhino drops about four loads a day, at about 20 pounds a plop. Eighty pounds of poop . . . hmmm. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the interactive for that one! Now we know why zookeepers are in such great shape.

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