Chilean zoo hopes to help save South African white rhinos

The first rhinos to ever set foot in Chile can be found just outside of Santiago where zoologists hope to help protect the threatened species.

For the first time ever, visitors to the Buin Zoological Park can view a pair of Southern African white rhinos. The couple, “Oliver” and “Hanna,” were presented to the public earlier this month after arriving in Chile in August.

The two young rhinos were brought to the zoo, located just outside of the Chilean capital, in the hopes of preserving the majestic species as illegal poaching continues to become an ever more dangerous threat to their survival. The idea is that through a breeding program at Buin Zoological Park, Chilean zoologists can help to maintain the white rhino population.

“This why we have a male and female and hopefully they’ll be able to facilitate conservation through a breeding program,” Francisco Córdova, veterinary sciences graduate and educational tour guide at the Buin Zoo, told The Santiago Times.

These white rhinos come from South Africa, which is home to 83 percent of white rhinos, and 73 percent of all the rhinos in the world.  It is no surprise, then, that the area is a favorite for poachers, who can earn almost US$30,000 per pound of Rhinoceros horn. As park security forces continue to battle this illegal trade, zoologists hope to preserve the species in safer environments, like Chile’s Buin zoo.

This particular zoo has already had exciting success in other breeding programs. The Buin Zoological Park made international headlines in 2011 for its pygmy hippopotamus program. That year the zoo was the site of the first ever pygmy hippo birth in South America, a feat it again repeated just last year.

Although there may be a pressure to eventually produce results, Córdova said that the zoo, the scientists and workers are first and foremost interested in making sure Oliver and Hanna are comfortable in their new surroundings.

“Our job is to keep them in the best possible condition, keep them busy and in a good frame of mind with a life that is very similar to the one that they have in the wild,” he said. “We want them to be happy.”