San Diego Rhino Finds A New Home In Tanzania An 8-year-old eastern black rhino bull, born and raised in San Diego, recently made a 68-hour journey to Tanzania where he will eventually be released into the wild.

San Diego Rhino Finds A New Home In Tanzania

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A rhinoceros born and raised in San Diego is getting adjusted to its new home in Tanzania. The eastern black rhino could play a key role in efforts to repopulate the critically endangered species in the wild. Erik Anderson of member station KPBS has details.

ERIK ANDERSON, BYLINE: Senior keeper Sandy Craig unlocked the door to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park livestock barn.


ANDERSON: More than a hundred rhinos have been born here, and most roam in natural-style open exhibits with other animals. On this day, Craig and keeper Mike Veale brought treats to an 8-year-old eastern black rhino named Eric, who's confined to the barn. There are only 740 of the animals left in the world.

SANDY CRAIG: Hey. Who's my favorite rhino? Who's my favorite?

ANDERSON: The 2,500-pound bull is a bit sassy, even after months of close-quarter work. It's still too dangerous to get in the same enclosure. But Veale and Craig frequently reach their hands between big metal bars in the livestock barn.


MIKE VEALE: Good boy, Eric. Good boy.


CRAIG: Target.

ANDERSON: That target command gets his attention. And that clang - it's his horn hitting the posts in his pen. Chomping on his reward is as close as a person might get to a rhino thank you, but that's not what keepers are looking for. Craig and Veale worked for months to train Eric to get him comfortable with them and the crate that carried him to Africa.

VEALE: Normally, we would just let him be a rhino out in the field and have fun doing his own thing, and we would work with him in a behavioral context.

ANDERSON: But Eric has had several months of special training.

STEVE METZLER: He's not a typical zoo rhino.

ANDERSON: Steve Metzler is the Safari Park's curator of mammals. He says it is not like Eric's been living in a small, confined space.

METZLER: He's been living with Cape buffalo and with African antelope and African birds, and so his life here is actually pretty similar to what his life is going to be in Africa.

ANDERSON: This rhino's parents were prolific breeders, so Eric's genes are overrepresented in the captive U.S. black rhino herd. That meant he wasn't likely to be allowed to breed here. But his gene line doesn't exist in Tanzania, and there's hope that Eric becomes a key part of the effort to reintroduce wild black rhinos to the Western Serengeti. Eric's journey last weekend from San Diego to Tanzania lasted just short of three days - 68 hours.

BEVERLY BURDEN: That was quite the feat.

ANDERSON: Beverly "Beezie" Burden works at the African Reserve managed by the Singita Grumeti Fund. We reached her by cell.

BURDEN: It involved two trucks, three different airplanes, five countries and I think something like 10,000 miles. So he came quite a long way, but he did it and we did it, and it happened with a great amount of celebration when he landed here.

ANDERSON: The rhino is getting the local diet and has already been released from a small indoor holding pen to a larger outdoor enclosure.

BURDEN: We also have to monitor and figure out different diseases that we have in Tanzania that he wouldn't have been exposed to, from ticks or tsetse flies. So all of that is being monitored.

ANDERSON: A successful transition to living in Africa is the first part of the mission. Breeding is the second. Conservationists in Tanzania have already identified a female eastern black rhino, and they hope the pair is prolific. For NPR News, I'm Erik Anderson in San Diego.


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