Walnut Street Students Help Blank Park Zoo’s Rhinos
One morning before school this spring Lanna Smith, then a 3rd grader at Walnut Street School, saw a piece on Good Morning America about the endangered black rhino. Hey, she thought, maybe we can do something to help. When she got to school she recruited some friends. Gianna Mordini, Emily Merfeld and Catelyn Mead joined her in a fundraising campaign.
They made a YouTube video together and set up a piggy bank for rhinos in the school lobby. Together they raised more than $100, not enough to secure the future of a species (adult rhinos eat an average of 50 lbs. of food per day) but more than enough to earn the appreciation of the Blank Park Zoo, on behalf of a pair of eastern black rhinos who happen to be expecting.
Thursday morning the girls were invited to the zoo for a behind-the-scenes tour of the rhino exhibit, guided by Lou the Rhino-keeper.
Out in their yard, enjoying the mild summer weather that followed yesterday’s scorcher, were Kiano and Ayana. They met at the zoo in 2012 after Ayana arrived from Miami and Kiano came here from Sioux Falls and are two of only 46 eastern black rhinos currently housed in North American zoos. They fell for each other and Ayana is now pretty far along in a 15-month gestation that will result next fall in the first black rhino birth in captivity since 2014. The couple is no doubt more excited than they looked while munching a lunch of hay during the visit from their quartet of benefactors.
After posing for pictures with Lou the girls got a walk-through of Ayana’s and Kiano’s indoor quarters while the couple enjoyed their picnic outside. But first they had to dip their shoes in disinfectant to prevent contamination of the rhino house. You can’t be too careful, especially given Ayana’s delicate condition.
Black rhinos weigh about 75 pounds at birth, about the same as 4th grade girls which Lanna, Gianna, Emily and Catelyn will all be when they come back next season (the zoo is only open to the public from May-September) to see living, breathing proof that gifts like theirs can help make a difference.
“Ayana will be a first-time mother,” Lou told the girls. “I think she’ll do well.”
And she’ll have plenty of moral support from her baby’s four aunts at Walnut Street School.