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The rhino that inspired my username - Album on Imgur
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The rhino that inspired my username

by 12d via iPhone

Harapan is a Sumatran rhino. Around 100 of these guys are left in the wild, give or take a few. They are the only species of rhino with hair all over their body rather than just their eyelashes, tips of their ears and tail. I met Harapan in the spring of 2014. I was infatuated with him by his prescence on exhibit but I knew the instant I met him that this rhino was going to impact my life somehow. He is very social, curious and enjoys the company of humans. When I went behind the scenes in his holding area for the very first time, we didn't immediately go over to him. He actually had just finished a training session and was given access outside but he just stood there and stared at us. Almost with a look of "uh hello I'm over here why aren't you attentioning me?!" His keeper said since he seemed so interested in us we could go meet him. This first hands on interaction with him was absolutely incredible. He licked my hands and even fell asleep while I scratched under his chin. I already knew quite a bit about the species because I was a volunteer educator at our Sumatran rhino cart but I didn't know what impact he would have when I met one up close and personal. We were the only zoo with Sumatran rhinos and it was really important to get their stories out there to people to try to do as much as possible in the states to save this species.

Fast forward a couple months after our first interaction and I actually had the amazing opportunity to volunteer down in the department that Harapan lived in. I actually got to work with him and other endangered species including red panda, Bactrian camel, takin, przewalski horses and a couple species of pigs. I was ecstatic. Once a week I had a chance to learn more about him and get to know him and love him more than I already did. I'm going to share a couple of my favorite stories of working with him.

One thing you should know is, I knew my time with him was going to be limited and would eventually come to an end. With how critically endangered the species was breeding is a high priority to try to prevent these guys from going extinct. Harapan was the last Sumatran rhino in the United States. He would have to travel back to Sumatra, where his brother Andalas is, for hopes of reproducing with the females at the Sumatran rhino sanctuary. I never took my time for granted with him and really appreciated what I was actually doing when I was with him. The picture above is from one of my favorite moments ever with him. It was taken a few months after I started working with him and I was visiting the zoo as a guest one day and stopped down by his exhibit. He was mozying around so I said "good morning Harapan!" And he stopped in his tracks. Walked over to the viewing area. Turned his head like it is in the picture and he squeaked. It was the first time I had ever heard a rhino squeak in person (look it up you won't regret it). I cherish that memory because to me, he recognized my voice and was saying good morning back.

Once his trip became finalized I worked up the courage to ask his keepers if there would ever be a chance for me to take a picture with Harapan. Harapan was a star in our behind the scenes program and people would come do programs with him often so I knew we had a location where this would be possible. His keeper was like "well yeah! Let's do it right now!" And we cut up some fresh produce and opened the window and now I have this picture of us together to cherish. I have more than this but this one I love even if I look like a potato because he looks so happy!

When it became public knowledge that he was leaving, his exhibit became very popular. I mean, last Sumatran rhino in the United States which is arguably the most critically endangered large mammal, I'm glad it became popular. He was a ham, as I'm sure he still is. He loved the attention. Traveling to a completely different continent takes some preparation. He had to travel in a specific crate that eventually became part of his indoor holding area so that he would get used to it. The crate became a prime training place to ensure that he would have a stress free flight/car ride/ferry boat ride. I got to feed him in his crate one day. The opening for the window to feed him through was a little above my forehead and while I was feeding him his lip graced my forehead looking for a banana. I always like to joke that he gave me a forehead kiss because he loved me, but he just wanted bananas. I still enjoy that memory.

Painting is enrichment for our animals here. It's a good activity to help stimulate their brain and Harapan had painted before, I knew that. His travel date was suddenly decided a little earlier than I had assumed and he was to go in quarantine on about a 2 day notice. This sent me into a frenzy because that meant I only had 2 days left to physically love on this rhino. During one of my visits with him I asked if I could maybe get a painting from him if he were up for it. Naturally they said yes but I had to bring a canvas in the next day because of his quarantine start date. Of course I did and a few weeks later while I was about to leave after working with the camels the keepers gave me this. It's one of my favorite possessions. I'll never forget the generosity and kindness from his keepers for someone who helped them once a week.

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