The misunderstood rhinoceros

The first ten years
In 1977 a little white rhino got off to a really bad start as his sudden appearance on the stage in Knowsley Safari Park came as a bit of a surprise to the staff. There is really no way to tell whether or not a rhino is pregnant just by looking at it, so the birth of the rhino calf caused quite a stir. The calf was separated from the rest of the rhinos and hand reared - maybe due to insufficient stabling conditions, or maybe due to the unforeseenness of the event. Whatever the reasons for the desicion may have been, the result was, to put it mildly, not good.

The calf , named George, had to be bottlefed and cared for, but humans are a poor substitute for a rhino cow. The young pachyderm was never taught to be a rhino proper, and he became known as an unpredictable and aggressive animal. For ten long years he only ever met other rhinos on a nose-to-nose basis through the fences. He did not "speak rhino", he did not really like other rhinos, and most of the time he preferred to be around the keepers, although he was not to be trusted.

The rhino calf grew up to be a big rhino bull, and since he could not be with the other rhinos at the safari park, George was put up for sale.

Coming to Denmark
After being bought by a Dutch dealer, the maladjusted rhino was sold to Aalborg Zoo in Jutland, Denmark. The zoo wanted a bull in their breeding program, but the now ten year old George was not in a cooperative mood. In a matter of five months he smashed up the fences, the stable, and everything else he could get his horn on, and the cows he was supposed to mate with got beaten up. Again he had to be put in solitary confinement.

After five troublesome months Aalborg zoo gave up. Luckily for George there was a wildlife park in Givskud, some 195 km from Aalborg, which offered to give him a home.

Here George came to share his pen with two white rhino cows. He did not beat them up but neither did he mate with them. His name was changed to the fitting 'Brutalis', and he slowly settled into a kind of routine. As long as things were predictable and calm, Brutalis was calm and almost friendly to people, but if anything untowards happened, he became violent and aggressive. He was not an easygoing acquintance, and he required a lot of work.

Brutalis took to residing in one end of the enclosure while his two cows stayed in the other. He liked to socialize with the keepers, although they had to keep on their toes: a 2,5 tons of testy rhino is not to be taken lightly! He would actually seek out human company, not worrying the least about his two lovely spouses. And this was becoming a problem, since Givskud was very interested in breeding white rhino.

The zoo tried to find a way to placate the rambuncious rhino, but it was becoming clear that Brutalis' staying at Givskud was not such a good idea. It would make neither him nor the zoo happy in the long run. Contacts in Africa did not seem to be able to offer any kind of advice on the matter. It appeared that they would have to take the sad way out of this rhino-mess, unless...

One rhino to go...
In 1994 a solution presented itself: On January 1, Brutalis left Givskud Zoo and Denmark, accompanied by Richard Østerballe (now the Director of Givskud Zoo). They were headed for the Ongawa Game Reserve in Namibia. The game reserve already had quite a few white rhinos, and thought it would be a good idea to get some new blood into the population. Brutalis was, after all, a good looking male in the prime of his youth.

In the beginning Brutalis was placed in a boma while he adjusted to all the new smells and sounds. A new keeper was introduced, and Brutalis quickly took a shine to him. The next couple of months Brutalis stayed very close to his new friend. Too close, as he actually broke through the walls of the house. He did not like to be alone in the African wilderness at all, when his friend was just inside.

Brutalis was a great tourist attraction as the tourists could get closer to the big guy, than to a wild rhino. But the continous exposure to humans meant that Brutalis never ventured far from the house, and the chances of him finding a mate was close to none.

Eventually the keeper decided to withdraw from the scene, to get Brutalis to explore his surroundings instead of hanging around the house. Another new keeper moved in, and the first thing he did was to stop tourists from getting near the place. The plan was to make Brutalis want to wander around a bit, maybe meet other rhinos.

And it worked. A scant year after his arrival in Ongava Brutalis found a new way of life. He was frequently seen with a white rhino cow called Lea, and things were looking up. With any luck they would mate, and hopefully add to the park’s rhino population. Every now and again, though, he wandered off, outside the boundaries of the park, making the game keepers come and collect him (enticing him with treats).

Another year passed and a new keeper took over. He found that Brutalis was still very fond of people, so he let the tourists back into the area. Brutalis left his cow and returned to his old ways, hanging out with people, getting his photograph taken by enthusiastic tourists. Good for the tourists, probably good for the keeper, and good for the park's net-income - but not so good for Brutalis. Whether or not he and Lea ever mated and produced offspring is unclear - but it is evident that Brutalis never found a mate again.

And so it ends...
On November 13, 2000 Brutalis got into a fight with another male rhino. And although he himself was a big and handsome animal, he was not up to the challenge. He was killed in the fight, and found by the game keepers the next day. A sad ending for Brutalis, but at least he died as he ought to have lived. He got 6 years in the Namibian wilderness, in a semi wild state, always happier close to people.

My sources are: TV documentaries, snippets of information on various websites. A 'thank you' to busy Richard Østerballe for help with Brutalis' background, and some dates.

DISCLAIMER: As my sources were not completely in agreement on all accounts, I elected to write the story as I saw fit! If you know something I don't, I'd love to hear about it.

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