Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ridiculous Rhinos

Last time I was at Auckland zoo I watched with amusement a young boy jumping up and down with glee at seeing a rabbit hop around in the elephant enclosure, much more interesting than the two giant mammals munching away at their hay. The white rhinos there always took my fancy. Somehow elephants look credible. Even giraffes, ungainly but graceful as well. But rhinos close-up appear ridiculous.

Those in Christchurch’s Orana Park look more spectacular in their wide-open green paddock beyond the moat than their brethren in Auckland’s dusty domain. Distance has a softening effect.

Like hippopotamus (river-horse) the name for the rhino is derived from the Greek, (keros[horn] and rhino [nose]). The Romans used rhino for their gladiatorial games. What effort there must have been to catch and convey them from their African homeland to Rome. Unlike the elephant which can be domesticated, the rhino remains an unruly creature. Not very intelligent they are basically timid but if angered they have terrific strength and power. A gladiator’s idea of hell must have been an enraged rhino.

I’ve tried to find out how those ancients managed to round them up but no luck in my research to date though there are mosaics in Sicily showing some capturing with a lot of maiming of the animals. I did learn, however, that in Julius Caesar’s triumph on returning to Rome from the East after defeating Pompey there were 40 elephants each holding a lit torch in their trunks as part of the parade.

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