Rapunzel the Rhino Is Mourned in Bronx [New-York-Times 2005-12-24]
Rapunzel the Rhino Is Mourned in Bronx
[Photo] D.DeMello/Wildlife Conservation Society. Rapunzel loved to nibble willow, mulberry and maple leaves at her home, the Bronx Zoo.
By ANDY NEWMAN
Published: December 24, 2005
Even by the standards of Sumatran rhinoceroses - shy, solitary creatures that spend as much time as possible nibbling leaves - Rapunzel, the Bronx Zoo's exemplar of the species, was not especially outgoing.
But she had a pretty voice, a luxurious coat, adorable fringe on her ears and a big, beautiful heart, and it is those qualities that her human friends will remember. For Rapunzel died on Thursday, at the estimated age of 30-something.
"Rapunzel was always the sweetest of the rhinos," said Terri Roth, a vice president for animal sciences at the Cincinnati Zoo, where Rapunzel lived during a fruitless attempt to breed her. "Just a real sweet girl."
Rapunzel, who lived primarily at the Bronx Zoo for 15 years, developed trouble moving and breathing early in the week and was euthanized after she failed to respond to treatment, zoo officials said. A necropsy will determine the cause of her decline.
Sumatran rhinos are unusual animals. The smallest of the five surviving species of rhinos (Rapunzel weighed 1,200 pounds), Sumatrans are also the most ancient, and the only ones covered with hair, linking them to the prehistoric woolly rhino and other mastodon-like creatures of yore.
According to a paper presented to the Acoustical Society of America in 2001, Sumatrans, unlike other rhinos, vocalize continuously, even while eating, commanding a broad repertoire of eeps and yips reminiscent of the humpback whale.
They are also severely endangered, numbering fewer than 300 worldwide.
Rapunzel was rescued in 1989 by a consortium of zoos from a Sumatran rain forest that was slated to be cleared to make way for palm tree plantations.
"There would have been very little chance for her to survive," said Pat Thomas, the Bronx Zoo's curator of mammals. She was one of the zoo's few animals born in the wild, and was at the time of her death one of only five Sumatran rhinos in captivity in the United States. Three of the remaining four are in Cincinnati; the other is in Los Angeles.
Researchers are pretty sure that Rapunzel bore calves during her wild days in Sumatra, but while she lived in captivity, no suitor ever climbed her golden (O.K., coarse, reddish-brown) hair.
It was not for lack of trying. Dr. Roth, a reproductive physiologist, said that after more than a year trying to play matchmaker she determined that Rapunzel was past childbearing age. Rapunzel returned to the Bronx Zoo in 2000, where she lived in the Zoo Center, a historic complex at the heart of the zoo.
In the summer, she usually stayed outdoors and swam in a pool. In the cold months, she split display time in an indoor exhibit with a pair of Malay tapirs.
Mr. Thomas said that in addition to willow, mulberry and maple leaves, Rapunzel was fond of fruit, especially bananas. She lived a simple life, he said. "She liked a warm hose," he said. "The keepers would groom her, brush her hair."
Dr. Thomas refused to say what would become of Rapunzel's body. But according to newspaper accounts, at least one of the zoo's deceased rhinos is buried in an unmarked grave in a wooded area that is closed to the public.