Entering the World of Rhino Conservation
In 1929, there were only 20 southern white rhinos left in their native habitat, hunted nearly to extinction from a population that had once numbered in the thousands. White rhinos were then placed under strict government protection, and with dedicated conservation efforts, they began to come back. By the late 1960s, there were more than 1,000, and conservationists felt it would be advisable to send some to zoos and wildlife parks in other countries to create other breeding groups. Ian Player, then chief conservator of the Natal Parks Game and Fish Preservation Board of Zululand, came to San Diego to meet with Dr. Charles Schroeder and discuss the possibility of some southern white rhinos coming to the San Diego Zoo. During that meeting, Dr. Schroeder told him his plans for the Wild Animal Park, and Player was impressed. It was just the sort of environment he envisioned. The two men shook hands on it, and San Diego joined the white rhino conservation effort.
In 1971, 18 southern white rhinos took up residence at the Wild Animal Park, which was still under development. They had been shipped from Durban, South Africa, to Houston, Texas, then their crates were loaded onto railway cars to travel to San Diego, with a sign posted on the side announcing the “Rhino Express.” They made the last 30 miles of their journey on flatbed trucks, which pulled into the Park’s field exhibit and lined the crates up side by side. John Fairfield, senior keeper at the Park, and Ivan Steytler, of the Natal Parks staff, accompanied the rhinos all the way and were on hand to open the crate doors and let the rhinos into their new home.