Requiem for a white rhino

Assam zoo loses crowdpuller

By Roopak Goswami in Guwahati
  • Published 20.07.17
The carcass of the white rhino at Assam zoo in Guwahati on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, July 19: He came from the US in 1974 to Guwahati, an energetic three-year-old raring to go. The Assam state zoo, that had affectionately named him Mohan, bid farewell to one of its favourite inmates with a touching cremation today.

Among the largest living land animals, with a body length ranging between 335 and 420cm and a tail length of 50 to 70cm, Mohan belonged to a spectacular species: the exotic double-horned African white rhinoceros. Given the stud appearance, there were high hopes of Mohan shedding his bachelor tag when he arrived.

Yet 43 years later, as he breathed his last, Mohan remained a reluctant member of the lonely hearts' club.

But not for want of trying either. The zoo looked far and wide to find Mohan a mate, but the cost of transporting one from abroad was prohibitive. The only other white rhino in India was Bheema, a male in Mysore zoo, who died last year. Mohan was bought from a US zoo for Rs 50,000 and lived his bachelor existence for 43 years in this zoo.

"He died of old age as the life span of a white rhino is between 40 and 50 years," the divisional forest official of the zoo, Tejas Mariswamy, told The Telegraph. The zoo has five one-horned rhinos. He said attempts were made during former DFO Narayan Mahanta's tenure to find Mohan a mate but there was no female available.

Mohan was the oldest inmate in the zoo. After his death, a 43-year-old hippopotamus, Raja, leads the bevy of attractions.

The zoo records just mention Mohan as a white rhino but the international studbook for the African white rhino mentions it as a southern white rhino.

The scientific name for the African white rhino is Ceratotherium simum. Cerato means horn and therium is wild beast in Greek. Simum comes from the Greek word simus meaning flat nosed.

"The rhino was not eating properly for the last few days," another zoo official said. The horns were removed after the post-mortem.

White rhinos are not actually white. They are usually light grey to dark yellow in colour. They have two horns, with the front horn being longer and often attaining a length of 150cm.

The most popular explanation for the white rhino's name is that it comes from the Afrikaans word wijt (which sounds like 'white') meaning wide, in a reference to its mouth.

"I had seen this rhino for a number of years whenever I had come to check its health and its death is a sad news," elephant veterinarian, Kushal Konwar Sarma, said.

There are five rhino species in the world - Sumatran, Javan, one-horned, white and black. There are 17,480 white rhinos in southern Africa. It has two distinct subspecies, but only the southern white rhino has survived. The northern variety has become extinct in the wild because of poaching.

It has not been a good week for the state zoo as it lost Swati, 21, the oldest tiger, early on Sunday.