Massaging a rhino is one activity that you’re probably not expecting on a visit to Monarto Zoo. I’m leaning through the steel bars, touching Satara’s horn. The Southern White Rhinoceros is enormous. “He loves it right there,” says Geoff Brooks, Monarto Zoo’s Assistant Manager, pointing to a soft spot between the rhino’s belly and leg.
Brooks and I take turns to massage the rhino’s soft spot. The white rhino grunts agreeably, enjoying our ministrations.
Several months ago, Satara went on a sex-crazed rampage when a younger bull started getting friendly with his girlfriend.
The 18-year-old two-tonne rhino smashed through the steel bars of his pen and ran amuck looking for his lady love. Helicopters were used to locate him.
“We had to close down the entire zoo,” says Brooks. They finally found him and had to use a tranquillising dart to keep him within the zoo’s grounds.
Satara was captured in Africa’s Kruger National Park and brought to Australia six years ago as part of a captive breeding program.
The rhino is one of the many animals at Monarto Zoo which is a 1,000-hectare open-range sanctuary, 70 kilometres from Adelaide in the Murraylands region.
It is Satara’s feeding time and I have been helping Brooks put out bales of lucent hay during a Working with Wildlife tour.
The tour allows you to spend the day helping the zoo’s wildlife management staff care for the animals while learning about the animals.
No two days are the same and activities depend on the requirements of the animals. According to Brooks, last week’s visitors watched a vet perform surgery on lion.
We leave Satara and head off to check on the Black Rhinoceros enclosure, driving through a landscape that is ideal for wildlife from Savannah grasslands and the semi-arid habitats of Africa, Asia, South America and Australia.
Habitats at the zoo range from five to 50 hectares.
The landscape is not irrigated to minimise water consumption; rainwater is collected in storage tanks; biocycle waste treatment systems at the visitor and staff toilet amenities filters, recycles and reuses water for revegetation and much of the electric fencing is solar powered.
Brooks tells me about the differences between the two rhino species. The two black rhino live in a large enclosure surrounded by a trench and electric fencing.
I learn that the Black Rhinoceros is much smaller than the Southern White Rhinoceros.
The black rhino is usually solitary and is a browser that eats leaves, buds and shoots of plants, bushes and trees.
The white rhino is gregarious and grazes on grasses.
Then we’re off to check on the cheetahs, Skukusa, Askari, Tsotsie were hand-reared at Monarto as part of the zoo’s breeding program, and the giraffes where a staff member is giving a talk to visitors.
Monarto Zoo has the largest giraffe herd in Australia.
Our next stop is the wild dog enclosure where a keeper is throwing chunks of meat on the ground. The dogs are then released from their pens and rush for the food. A fight begins.
“The pack leader fell ill and had to be removed from the pack. The other dogs have been fighting to re-establish the pecking order,” explains Brooks.
There are a number of ways to see the animals including the Zu-Loop Shuttle, which drives through various enclosures.
You can also walk around the zoo on foot or join one of the behind-the-scenes tours.
One development to look forward to is the upcoming African wildlife experience. The zoo recently purchased an adjacent parcel of 450 hectares of land where visitors will be able to sleep in luxury safari-tented accommodation while giraffe, zebra, antelope and the rhinos (including the jilted Satara) roam together in an 80-hectare enclosure, almost like Africa.
Discover South Australia
Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue fly to Adelaide. From Adelaide take the Monarto exit off the South Eastern Freeway to the Princes Highway and follow the signs. Buses depart from the Central Bus Station (Monday to Saturday). Phone 8415 5579.