Sanctuary Asia, opening soon at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, will create a vast, multipurpose environment where endangered animals from the Asian continent can thrive while receiving world-class animal care. Prior to the opening, we will periodically preview a species coming to the new habitat. We previously featured the langurs, cassowaries, tanuki (raccoon dogs) and Komodo dragons, now it's time to profile the Indian rhinoceros, also known as greater one-horned rhinoceros!
Currently at the Zoo’s Pachyderm habitat, Indian rhinos Chandra, 32, and Niki, 11, will soon be transitioning to a new, larger habitat at Sanctuary Asia. In a unique arrangement, the rhinos and elephants will alternate between the existing 4.5-acre elephant habitat and a new 3.5-acre space at Sanctuary Asia. The two species will not co-habitat. Sanctuary Asia and the current elephant habitat are divided by a road used by OKC Zoo trams and other Zoo staff. Since removing the road was not a possibility, engineers designed a special elephant and rhino crossing gate that will securely open and close, allowing the animals to move between the spaces.
Chandra, a male, arrived at the Zoo in 1990 from the Los Angeles Zoo. Niki, a female, was previously at the Bronx Zoo in New York before arriving at the OKC Zoo in 2009.
Indian rhinos can weigh more than 2,000 pounds, Chandra currently weighs about 4,000 pounds. They are herbivores and are known for their tough skin. The OKC Zoo participates in the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan (SSP), developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Through the SSP, Chandra and Niki are a recommended breeding pair based off of their genetic compatibility. In 2014, Niki gave birth to a male rhino, Rupert, her first offspring with Chandra. Rupert recently moved from the OKC Zoo to Mesker Park Zoo in Indiana, as part of an SSP breeding recommendation.
Native to India and Nepal, the species is currently listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Through conservation programs, populations over the past century have recovered from under 200 to approximately 2,600 today. However, there is a continuing decline in the quality of their natural habitat and the species continues to be illegally hunted for its horn.
In addition to Indian rhinos, Sanctuary Asia will be home to Komodo dragons, Francois’ langurs, red pandas, Asian elephants and tanuki (raccoon dogs). A major feature of the new habitat will be the Lotus Pavilion, a two-story building providing the Zoo’s highest vantage point allowing guests to see into multiple animal habitats through vast windows ads well as a wraparound balcony on the second floor. The views will include the elephant, rhino and Komodo dragon habitats.
Sanctuary Asia will provide daily food service and a facility designed for after-hours special events, including weddings. A water zone will give children a splash area to experience in the summer. The landscape design will include plantings native to Oklahoma, but will resemble lush Asian themes. Funding for the 6.6-acre expansion was secured through the Zoo’s 1/8-of-a-cent sales tax accrual, approved by Oklahoma City citizens in 1990. The $22 million project was outlined as Phase II in the Zoo’s master plan in 2010.
Photo by: Andrea Johnson