Riverbanks Plans a Rhinormous Welcome amid a Mammoth Farewell

For Immediate Release: June 19, 2019

[Columbia, SC] — Riverbanks Zoo and Garden will soon bid a bittersweet farewell to its pair of popular pachyderms as the Zoo prepares to welcome the return of another charismatic species—the Southern white rhinoceros.

Riverbanks is working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) African Elephant Species Survival Plan® (SSP) to find a new herd for 48-year-old Robin and 37-year-old Belle. The move will enable Robin and Belle to live with a larger group in a more social environment.

“The decision to move Robin and Belle was not easy, but it is the right decision for the animals and Riverbanks,” said John Davis, Director of Animal Care and Welfare at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. “There is no doubt that Robin and Belle will be missed by our staff, our members, and the community.”

Belle came to Riverbanks from Columbus Zoo in 2001 and Robin in 2007 from Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The two are among 13 African elephants that have lived at the Zoo since 1973. Despite the animals’ upcoming departure, Davis adds that elephants could eventually return to Riverbanks.

“It’s certainly not out of the question,” said Davis. “Ideally, we would like to one day manage a breeding group; however, housing male elephants is not an option in our current habitat. Additional space is required to separate males and females during non-breeding season when bulls tend to be solitary animals.”

Following Robin and Belle’s departure, Riverbanks plans to re-introduce and breed Southern white rhinos at the Zoo—a species last seen at Riverbanks in 1989. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates less than 22,000 individuals remain in the wild most of which are found in the grasslands of southern Africa. Northern white rhinos are now extinct in the wild because of poaching.

“We are excited to give our guests the opportunity to connect and interact with these magnificent creatures that, without us, face an uncertain future,” said Thomas Stringfellow, President and CEO of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. “By bringing white rhinos back to Riverbanks, we have a great opportunity to contribute to the sustainability of this species.”

White rhinos are the most social of the five species of rhinoceros and the second largest land mammal behind the elephant. The animals can weigh up to 6,000 lbs. and reach 6 ft. tall but despite their massive size, can run nearly 25 miles per hour. White rhinos are herbivores that use their square upper lip for grazing on grasses.

Riverbanks is slated to open the Southern white rhino exhibit in the summer of 2020. The Zoo is planning special activities for the public prior to Robin and Belle’s move beginning with World Elephant Day on August 12. Guests also will have an opportunity to sign a farewell card that will be sent with the animals to their new home. Additional details will be announced in July.