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Coastland conservation meets rhino welfareArticle by Dr. Stephanie Wehnelt and Eleanor Condon, Chester Zoo
A prickly problem for Sefton Coast has become a treat for the Black rhinos at Chester Zoo thanks to Helen Woods a student at Liverpool John Moores University.
Helen approached the Sefton Coast and Countryside Service, who manage the Ainsdale Local Nature Reserve, about the removal of troublesome sea-buckthorn bushes from this coastal site. Helen was well aware that this prickly plant is a nuisance to dispose of and was determined to develop an environmentally friendly and novel use for the bushes. She hit upon the idea of sending the sea-buckthorn to us at Chester Zoo to use as 'browse' for our Black rhinos.
Along with the other animals in the zoo our rhinos are part of a program of 'environmental enrichment' designed to stimulate their natural range of behaviours. Food enrichment in the form of browse is important for plant eating species like the Black rhino and is especially appreciated by our three playful youngsters.
A zoo diet of concentrates and vegetables meets all of the rhinos nutrition requirements but does not take long to eat. By providing extra browse we are giving the animals the option to feed for hours throughout the day as they would naturally do.
The sea-buckthorn provides a perfect form of enrichment for Black rhinos, a species that browse on thorny bushes and scrub in the African savannah. They use their amazing prehensile upper lip for grabbing, manipulating and pulling off branches and no meal is too prickly!
In the wild, Black rhinos walk for miles each day and by placing the browse in different areas of the enclosure we encourage this behaviour at the Zoo. A further advantage of feeding the bushes is that they act as a visual barrier and provide the rhinos with shelter and some privacy.
Black rhinos are critically endangered in the wild due to poaching for their impressive horns. Chester Zoo has a long history of managing and breeding the Black rhino and also supports rhino conservation projects in Kenya. Only recently, our three young rhinos have moved into an exciting new enclosure the 'Tsavo Experience', and we aim to continue to breed more of these amazing animals.
We hope that the plant donations will continue in order to supplement the vegetation planted in the rhinos' new home and provide them with many more hours of novel feeding experience.
Authors: Dr. Stephanie Wehnelt (Research Officer) & Eleanor Condon (Research Assistant), Chester Zoo, (email contact: S.Wehnelt@chesterzoo.co.uk)