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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jun. 20, 2013 7 years ago

A rhino's birthday welcome

Giant party coming soon
by: Allison Olcsvay

When brainstorming a birthday party theme for two new-in-town toddlers, PJ and Jahi, both turning 2 this summer, planners could come up with only one fitting theme: that it be big.

Big enough to fit not only the 2-ton birthday boys, but them and a couple thousand of their closest friends. The pair’s party will take over the Central Florida Zoo on June 29 – with a festivity fit in size only for two of the less than 3,000 living greater one-horned rhinoceroses in the world.

In the summer of 2011, newborn pictures of both of Central Florida’s most popular now-toddlers plastered newspaper pages. Each with wrinkly knees and pink-tinged skin, PJ and Jahi were born on opposite Florida coasts one month apart. They met for the first time this week when PJ moved to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford from the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee to shack up with Jahi, who arrived in March.

The June 29 party will feature cake, face painting, crafts and animal encounters for humans, and a house warming and belated birthday celebration for car-sized PJ whose horn will have to double as a party hat.

Since before PJ moved in, Jahi has been known to cause stampedes of his own. From all corners of the Zoo kids clamor to come within feet of him, one of the world’s second largest land mammals.

“He’s so big!” and “He wiggled his ears!” shout small voices from the opposite side of the fence. “Come here rhino!” call excited kindergartners from Mrs. Hermann’s Clarcona Elementary class.

Jahi (pronounced Ja-hai) comes to the Zoo from Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo where he was born and lived with his parents until his recent transfer up Interstate 4 to Sanford.

Jahi, meaning ‘distinguished’ in Indian, is the result of Lowry Park’s successful breeding program and the beginning of the Central Florida Zoo’s.

As participants in the Species Survival Plan, zoos transfer animals on either a temporary or permanent basis to ensure successful breeding programs continue.

This acquisition is part of that process, allowing Lowry Park Zoo to continue their program by making room for more babies, and giving Jahi a place to begin a family of his own.

Jahi and PJ are both males as well as age mates, and will spend the next five years or so learning and growing together as they would in the wild.

They will spend their time playing, sparring and eating together, and by the time they reach maturity; the pair will have doubled in weight to approximately 2 tons.

As Jahi and PJ near maturity, the search will begin for suitable females to join them, and if all goes well, the zoo will welcome a baby rhino and the program will be a success.

Jahi was the first large animal addition since the Zoo’s elephant exhibit closed. His enclosure is in the same space the elephants used to occupy with modifications to suit his needs.

After elephants, rhinos are the largest land mammal, but are extremely endangered in the wild. Less than 3,000 Asian greater one-horned rhinos like Jahi and PJ exist in fewer than 10 sites in Asia.

Asia is also the world’s biggest market for rhino horn daggers and rhino horn medicinal treatments, poachers killing rhinos every day to meet the demand.

With nature’s odds against them, every birthday is worth a big celebration.

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