Indian Rhinos: The Divas of the Rhino World


Manjula's 'Pigtails'
Manjula’s ‘Pigtails’

If you asked me to describe our Indian rhino Manjula (or as we fondly call her, Jula), you might think I’d start by having you take note of her ears, horn, tail and skin folds looking for identifiable characteristics like a blemish or mark. However, you’d be surprised to learn that I’d respond with a more thorough description of her personality and sense of style. Yes, style. Indian rhino style! As one young zoo visitor told her brother when he asked if Manjula was a boy or a girl rhino “Of course she’s a girl, she has pigtails”. It took a minute, but it became clear to me she was speaking of Manjula’s long ear hair (or pigtails). I’ve never forgotten that story and as you can see from Manjula’s picture she does like she’s wearing her pigtails!


Manjula, like other Indian rhinos has a distinct personality. She and others of her species are the divas of the rhino world. Indian rhinos think a lot of themselves, and rightly they should. At 3500 lbs, Manjula could be a force to be reckoned with! However, we know her as our smart, inquisitive and funny girl that doesn’t miss a beat. That means that we (researchers, vets and most importantly her keepers) have to try and stay one step ahead of her and anticipate her next move so she doesn’t outsmart us.

Manjula checking you checking her out!
Manjula checking you checking her out!

Zoo visitors will find Manjula on exhibit at the Veldt, located up the hill from the African black rhino. Indian rhinos typically like to be in their own world, content to ignore everything outside their boundary/exhibit. Manjula, is quite the opposite. This girl has to be in and aware of all the action going on around her. Her smart and attentive nature makes her all the more receptive and in some cases more of a challenge when we have to introduce changes to her routine. I’m the first to admit, I’m a creature of habit. I like (crave) my routine too. However, because I’m involved in work, family, and social events I have to adapt to changes in my routine (admittedly, not always so gracefully). For our rhinos, we aim to keep their daily routine fairly consistent. However, there are times when change has to occur. For instance, there may be a time when construction is going on in a nearby exhibit and Manjula has to come in early for the night.   Our top notch rhino keepers try to prepare Manjula for such alterations in her routine by establishing a strong bond and trust between her and them so when they need her to something, she does it cooperatively and with confidence. Manjula’s keepers and the Curator of Animal Development and Training also work to condition her for aspects involved in husbandry, veterinary medicine and reproductive care.

Manjula has been trained to open her mouth for visual inspection. Training helps to establish a strong bond between Manjula and her keepers. Take note of Manjula's impressive, sharp canine teeth.
Manjula has been trained to open her mouth for visual inspection. Training helps to establish a strong bond between Manjula and her keepers. Take note of Manjula’s impressive, sharp canine teeth.

Born 10/25/2005 in Zanesville, OH, Manjula was the first Indian rhino calf born at the Wilds. When she came to Cincinnati Zoo in 2010 to partake in CREW Indian rhino research program, Manjula still had some of her baby teeth. Over the following year she lost those baby teeth and her adult incisors grew in. As you can see from this photo, they are quite impressive! Unlike African rhinos, Asian rhinos possess incisors. Both African and Asian rhinos use their horns to spar with each other and to dig up dirt and mud to make a proper wallow. Incisors are used to inflict damage to other rhinos perceived as a threat. Like a knife, the incisors can easily puncture the skin of another rhino. It’s one of the factors that can make breeding introductions somewhat challenging in Asian rhino species – not only do they have a horn with which to fight, they also have razor sharp teeth and aren’t afraid to use them if they don’t like the mate you’ve set them up with!

Manjula Lounging in her pool.
Manjula Lounging in her pool.

On most days you’ll find Manjula soaking in her pool. Indian rhinos are the most aquatic of the rhino species. In the wild, Indian rhinos spend 80% of their time in water or in the wet, sandy or marshy areas around large bodies of water. Given their aquatic nature, one of the biggest challenges faced in keeping Indian rhinos in captivity is maintaining foot health. Manjula’s keepers routinely assess her foot conformation, appearance, ease of movement and perceived comfort. Having access to and utilizing her pool is one way Manjula keeps her feet in good stead. In addition, Manjula’s keepers and the vet staff spend time each week giving Manjula a rhino pedicure, which involves an epsom salt foot bath, nail filing and foot pad massage.

Next time you are at the Zoo, make sure to stop by Manjula’s exhibit to see her and check out her style. Also, be sure to come out for World Rhino Day on September 21 to celebrate all rhinos and the efforts being done to safeguard their survival!