A Very Special Black Rhinoceros
Johnny The Black Rhinoceros
The black rhinoceros is severely endangered. There are estimated to be less than 3,700 animals left within their limited range in Southern part of Africa. Black rhinos like rhinoceroses everywhere are under threat because of poaching. This is the main reason. There is a mistaken belief that powdered rhino horn has medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. Additionally In Yemen in Southern Arabia, the horn of the rhino is traditionally used for dagger handles.
The first Black Rhinoceros I ever had anything to do with was a single male held at the now closed Cleethorpes Zoo and Marineland. A fully grown animal he was a much loved by both staff and visitor alike. Although he had none of the bovine tractability one so often encounters in White Rhinoceros he was nonetheless sort of friendly. He was called Johnny and had started his UK days in Flamingo Park Zoo. Nobody knew how old he was or whether he had ever had a companion. In the 1960's record keeping in zoos was none too hot and neither was
pairing animals up. Zoos have come a long way in the last forty years.
Johnny appeared happy enough in what were, for the time, adequate quarters. These did appear though to have been originally built for Tapir or Pygmy Hippopotamus. More space would have been an improvement and so too would have been a mate.
The zoo was part of a group and in the early 1970's the group was taken over. The financial management took place elsewhere and Cleethorpes Zoo and Marineland was very low on the agenda. Money seemed to be the driving force. The elephants went, then the giraffes and the camels.
Johnny was sold and shipped off to Ireland. Boxing him for the journey was no mean feat and only accomplished after some hours and at some risk to myself. It was with more than a twinge of sadness that I watched the lorry carry his box out of the zoo.
Gone but not forgotten.
Ten years later I was having dinner with Carr Hartley and his family on their farm just outside Nairobi in Kenya. The meal was roast beef. I still remember it as being the best roast beef that I have ever eaten. Every good meal is made better by interesting conversation and this was no exception.
Carr Hartley was old school white African. A remarkable man who one could not help admire in spite of disagreeing with many of his principles. A character and an unforgettable one at that. I mentioned that at one time I had worked at Flamingo Park Zoo and he asked after a male Black Rhinoceros he had supplied to the collection. I told him that I knew it well, that it had gone from Cleethorpes over to Ireland. Johnny was his name I said.
Carr said no....his name was Caesar.
Carr had been leading a hunting party. One of the animals shot that day was a large female Black Rhinoceros. One approaching the still warm body they discovered she was heavily pregnant. The belly of the Rhino cow was slit open and out tumbled a male calf. Caesar or Johnny as I knew him had arrived.
The little animal lived in the Hartley household until he eventually reached Flamingo Park Zoo via an animal dealer.
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