Tales of the TailsThat’s All Rhino

September 22, 2017

Even though unicorns are mythical creatures, there is a real animal that is just as majestic that humans can actually see. Known as “unicorns with curves” on the internet, these animals are also treasured for their unique horns.

Rhinoceroses, or rhinos for short, are the second largest land mammal, behind the elephant, and before the hippopotamus and giraffe. Although these animals are large, they are typically calm and easy-going. However, their eyesight is terrible, so they get startled easily, which can lead them to charge at full speed. Talk about a wide load coming through!

There are five species of rhinos and six subspecies located in parts of Africa and Asia. In Asia, three species of rhino can be found. The Greater one-horned or Indian rhino is classified as vulnerable to extinction. Both the Javan rhino and the Sumatran rhino species are critically endangered, with less than 160 of these marvelous creatures left in the wild.

Black rhinos are found in Southern Africa. There are four subspecies, including the Western black rhino, Eastern black rhino, South-western black rhino and South Central black rhino. These species of black rhino are all critically endangered, with less than 5,000 left in the population.

White rhinos, which includes the Northern and Southern rhino subspecies, are both found in Southern Africa. There are less than 10 Northern White rhinos left in the world, making the species critically endangered and extremely close to extinction. Southern White rhinos were once critically endangered, but population numbers have increased to 20,000 over a 100-year span with the help of conservation programs.

Why are rhinos so threatened? Even though their horns are made of keratin, (the exact same substance found in human hair and fingernails) some cultures believe the horns have medicinal value, making them highly sought-after. In fact, the exploitation of rhino horns is a $20 billion dollar industry every year. Because of the demand for their horns, rhinos are often killed, even every day. If nothing changes, it is estimated that all rhino species could become extinct within the next 20 years.

This is why conservation is so important. In 2012 the Zoo donated $2,500, and has donated $5,000 a year since 2014 to rhino conservation. The Virginia Zoo also supports the American Association of Zoo Keepers’ (AAZK) annual fundraising event, Bowling for Rhinos. This international program has raised more than $350,000 for rhino conservation in 2017. Every summer, the Tidewater Chapter of AAZK, which includes Zoo Keepers from the Virginia Zoo, Virginia Living Museum and Virginia Aquarium, hosts a local bowling event to raise money for rhino conservation. This year’s event raised more than $6,000.

The Virginia Zoo also participates in a White Rhino Species Survival Plan® established by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums. This program oversees and manages the species’ population in zoos by monitoring breeding to prevent overpopulation and inbreeding, and also ensures the species’ survival in the wild through conservation efforts such as programs to combat poaching and selling of rhino horns. Maximizing the genetic diversity of the species through breeding is also a priority of the SSP, which is why animals are often transferred to different zoos.

The Zoo’s two female Southern White rhinos are part of the SSP program, and soon a male White rhino will join them. The female pair came to the Virginia Zoo in April from the Singapore Zoo. Bora and Zina are half-sisters, sharing the same father but different mothers, and were born about six months apart. They have been together since birth, only being separated during their 36-hour trek to the Zoo. You can read about their journey across the world here.

Zina is the oldest of the two. She was born on April 27, 2013. Her current weight is around 2,374 pounds. Zina has small notches in her right ear, and has one wrinkle above each of her hips. Keepers say that Zina seems to solicit attention from the them more frequently than her sister.


Bora is the youngest rhino at the Zoo. She will be four this year on December 23. She weighs around 2,275 pounds and can be identified by the three distinct wrinkles on her hips. Although Zina tries to get more attention from her Keepers, Bora is usually the braver rhino in new situation. She’ll often check out new foods and enrichment before her older sister.

Thirteen pounds of grain, ¾ of a bale of timothy hay, and smaller amounts of alfalfa and produce make up both Bora and Zina’s diets. During training and enrichment, both girls love eating their grain, hay and melon. When the pair isn’t eating, they can be seen playing with boomer balls, play sparring with each other, rolling around in the mud and napping in the shadiest spots in their exhibit.

If you haven’t already seen Bora and Zina, this Saturday is the perfect opportunity to check them out and celebrate rhinos across the world. Download a Museum Day Live! ticket here for free admission for two to the Zoo on September 23 only, and participate in our World Rhino Day festivities from 11 am to 2 pm while you’re here! Enjoy keeper chats, story time, fun activities & crafts, plus discovery stations. 

You can find Bora and Zina in the Africa – Okavanga Delta between the lion and giraffe exhibits. After you pay them a visit, be sure to donate to help save their species in the wild!