A day in the life of a rhino keeper

A rhino keeper’s role is never dull

Written by Lynn Murray, Charity Liaison & Copywriter at Dial2Donate

This article highlights the day in the life of a UK-based rhino keeper. We bring you a fabulous insight into the daily tasks, the comical anecdotes and the quirky rhino characteristics which are all in a day’s work at Woburn. Of course there is a serious side too, as we examine problems faced by Lindsay and her team, for instance tackling complex breeding programmes and the constant pressure of dwindling rhino numbers. 

Lindsay With One Of The Rhino

Woburn’s four rhinos

Woburn currently houses four White Rhinos, (three females and one male) all of whom enjoy 40 acres in which to roam. Combine this with the utmost in keeper and veterinary care and it isn’t surprising to see such a happy and healthy herd at Woburn. But, how do the staff at Woburn maintain these wonderful creatures? We asked Head Keeper Lindsay Banks to share her experiences.

So, let’s have a look at Lindsay’s work...

Lindsay Banks has been a rhino keeper at Woburn Safari Park for 12 years. From a young age Lindsay always knew that she wanted to work with animals. Following her college studies she became a Seasonal Keeper at Woburn, always with a keen interest in hoof stock. A Masters Degree and heaps of hands-on experience later, Lindsay now holds the well-earnt title of ‘Senior Zoo Keeper’.  Despite dedicating much of her time to the rhinos, Lindsay (along with her dedicated team) is actually responsible for a variety of Woburn’s hoof stock. Rhinos, giraffes, buffalo – Lindsay holds quite a menagerie within her care. So, as you can imagine her days are far from dull. 

What’s not to love?

We asked Lindsay:

‘Why do you like rhinos so much?’

The answer was, ‘…there’s not a lot to dislike’… going on to explain that despite walking the earth for 40 million years rhinos are still very much misunderstood. Believe it or not rhinos are incredibly social creatures. What is more, their interaction with their keepers is quite remarkable, responding when spoken to and relishing those keeper-rhino routines.

Rhinos have existed for literally million years and against all odds they’re still around. However, they need our support and it would be, ‘…lovely if they could stay around for longer’.

‘Tell us about your daily rhino tasks’

Day-to-day tasks involved feeding, health checks, vet procedures and of course the grand old job of mucking out. Rolling those sleeves up and getting your hands dirty is an absolute must.

No two days are ever the same as a rhino keeper and there are regularly quite odd yet incredibly rewarding tasks to do. One example of which is mud packing faces. You would be forgiven for thinking we were referring to human mud packs but no, in actual fact it is the rhinos who are regularly in need of a muddy facial.

Mud is essential for keeping a rhino’s skin in tiptop condition. Unfortunately their wallowing techniques often do not stretch above the neck. This is where the rhino keeper has to step in, mud packing the rhinos to absolute perfection. (See picture above). 

‘Lindsay, have you any tales of quirky rhino behaviour?’

The park’s White Rhino is indeed a creature of habit, taking absolute pleasure in the daily routines provided by the keepers. Habitual movement from the day shelter and regular sleep times are firm favourites for the rhinos, however nothing quite beats their wallow time. You will never see a rhino quite as excited as they are at wallow time.

Rewarding times aplenty

‘Can you tell me about one of your most rewarding moments as a rhino keeper at Woburn?’

'Every day is rewarding’ was an answer that simply rolled off Lindsay’s tongue. However, one particular moment was particularly rewarding for her and the Woburn team. Woburn was actually involved in the rescue of two White Rhinos from one of the smaller protected areas of South Africa. In order to reduce numbers, Mtubatuba and Mkuzi (below) were on the brink of horrifically being auctioned off for trophy hunting purposes when they were mercifully rescued. The two 10 year olds females now reside at Woburn Safari Park were they are extremely well cared for and cherished every day. 

Mtubatuba Mkuzi

From bureaucratic red tape to a scratch and a tickle

As if their life journey hadn’t been arduous enough, Mtubatuba and Mkuzi’s route to Woburn was to be pretty tough also. The way ahead was paved with bureaucratic red tape, which meant that after a flight from Johannesburg to Luxemburg they faced a lengthy transfer from Belgium through to France, then over the Channel the UK. Veterinary supervision was in place all the way and upon arrival the rhino keepers were on hand to help with the settling-in process.

It appears the rhino keepers have done sterling job as Lindsay explains,

“…within minutes they were coming over for a scratch and tickle.”

In fact, in true White Rhino style the girls love to be tickled behind their ears and under their back legs – often approaching the sides of their pens asking their keepers to ‘make a fuss’ of them. 

Helping to ensure the survival of a species

In addition to ensuring their survival the rescued females represent a new bloodline for the EEP programme at Woburn. That means that the chances of breeding outside of Africa is greatly increased too.

‘What are the biggest obstacles on a day-to-day basis and the longer term?’

Lindsay explained that one of the main barriers to rhinos in captivity is a successful breeding programme. Aspects such as ensuring new blood lines and proving the virility of males and fertility of females is an enormous task.

Woburn currently has one prospective male rhino in residence named Kai. At 14 years old Kai is a good age for breeding, however his ability to father offspring is yet unproven. Alongside the park’s vet it is the role of the rhino keeper to do what he/she can to create optimum conditions for testing and breeding to occur. Samples need to be collected from male rhinos within allocated quite areas within the zoo. Female cycles are checked via faeces testing. Once all results are gathered and the time is right, breeding can hopefully begin. The whole process is run in accordance with stringent ‘EEP’ regulations.

Balancing the needs of the rhinos with the expectations of visitors at Woburn Safari Park is an added obstacle. Having rhinos in view whilst maintaining premium breeding conditions is never an easy job but is nevertheless one on a rhino keepers’ agenda.

In Conclusion...

It is safe to say that the role of a rhino keeper, especially at Woburn is pretty varied to say the least. All that hard work is certainly worth it and is indeed in a fantastic cause – the protection and the survival of a species facing extinction.

Looking at the bigger picture, the catastrophic effects of rhino poaching puts greater pressure on keepers of rhinos in captivity and those dealing with the problem in the wild. Woburn’s Lindsay Banks summarised this perfectly as she highlighted the amount of rhinos poached within South Africa in 2014 was a disgustingly huge 1214. Considering that rhinos have lengthy birthing intervals averaging 1-2 years between calves, it doesn’t take a mathematician to calculate the enormous rate of decline.

As Lindsay states, the rhinos’ survival is about, ‘…changing attitudes now’.

Across land and sea…

Despite carrying out rhino TLC on different sides of the world, the fundamental job of a rhino keeper is based on the same outcome – the protection of rhinos for generations to come. Our next article will explore the role of the African rhino ranger, drawing upon differences and comparisons with UK keepers, identifying shared goals along the way. 

You can find out more about Lynn and the work she does with the Save The Rhino charity here.