Zoo Mourns Loss of Rhino

Rolling Hills Zoo is mourning the loss of one of its animal family.

According to the zoo, Joya, a greater-one horned rhino, has passed away. Joya was an iconic species at the zoo since opening in 1999.

At 33 years old, Joya began developing age related issues. The animal care staff and veterinarian have been monitoring his quality of life for the past several months. Most recently he developed lameness in one foot that did not respond to treatment. Because his quality of life was declining rapidly, and to allow him to pass with dignity, it was decided that humanly euthanizing him was the kindest option available.

Joya was the oldest male in the Greater One horned rhinoceros’ Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. The SSP currently manages 78 GOH rhinos at 22 AZA accredited North American facilities. Rolling Hills Zoo was the only zoo in Kansas to house this species.

Born at San Diego Wild Animal Park on May 22, 1988, Joya came to Rolling Hills on April 8, 1995 on loan. He was donated in 2020.

Arriving at Rolling Hills with Joya was his brother Jaunpur, and white rhino, Uzazi. Jaunpur stayed until November 11, 1996 when he was transferred to Baton Rouge Zoo. He is currently living at Lowry Park Zoo and is 31 years old. At the age 30, Uzazi still resides at R Rolling Hills. These three were the zoo’s first animals.

“Joya is an iconic species at RHZ, and anyone that has been to the zoo knows him,” commented Brenda Gunder, Curator. “He has been an incredible representative for his species and he has taught so many of us how to be better caregivers.”

“Known by many names, “handsome boy” was my favorite name for Joya,” shared Devney Bowen, Head Keeper. “Joya was one of the first rhinos I had the pleasure of working with at Rolling Hills Zoo, and he was so smart, brave, charming and charismatic. He loved blowing bubbles while lounging in his pool, painting, bobbing for apples and splashing his water around – making a complete mess.”

Apples, sweet potatoes, bananas and grain were some of Joya’s favorite treats. He also loved the attention and tactile reinforcement. “He was an amazing animal,” continued Bowen. “We always had to respect his size and the fact that he was ultimately a wild animal, but he could be docile. He loved to be scratched with soft brushes and would lie down on cue.”

Joya was trained to lie down, open his mouth, paint with his prehensile lip, line-up and station using operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. This training also allowed him to participate in his own healthcare; aiding staff in administering veterinary care, including voluntary blood draws, injections and vaccinations, and skin care management.

Like any proper rhino, Joya loved making noise so everyone could hear him, and was well known for “marking” people. “He was known to stand up on top of his concrete water tank with his front feet when you entered the barn during feeding times,” shared Vickie Musselman, RHZ Register. “He would watch you over the top of the bars and make his little ‘rhino moo that they make’, telling you to please  hurry, he was hungry. Then while you were cleaning his stall, if you overfilled his water tank he loved submersing his head to the bottom of it and splashing all the water out.”

Another favorite for Joya was his pool where many guests saw him completely submerged except for his eyes, nose and ears. Surprisingly, when Joya’s pool was installed he was scared to go into it. So the keepers put a lot of sweet potatoes in the pool to encourage him to enter the pool. Of course he figured it out, and that became his favorite place to be in the summer time.

“Joya was a fantastic ambassador for his species and has undoubtedly had an impact on the nearly 2 million visitors to the Rolling Hills Zoo over the past 20+ years,” stated Ryan VanZant, RHZ Executive Director. “The fact that he is one of the longest lived greater one-horned rhinos is a testament to the care he was provided throughout his life, and through the behaviors Joya exhibited we know that he was safe, happy, healthy, and thriving right up until the one thing we could not save him from…time. He will be greatly missed by all.”

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Rolling Hills Zoo Photos