Visiting the rhinos at Monarto Zoo, South Australia

Visiting the rhinos at Monarto Zoo, South Australia


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Photos: Christina Pfeiffer

Away from the city attractions in Adelaide, 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.

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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.

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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. Monarto Zoo is the sister zoo of Adelaide Zoo, home to the Giant Pandas.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Monarto Zoo is easily a full day experience.

Find out more about South Australia here:

Visiting the rhinos at Monarto Zoo, South Australia
Visiting the rhinos at Monarto Zoo, South Australia


  1. It makes me a little distressed to see magnificent animals like those written about and photographed in this story held in captivity.That said open range zoos like Monarto in South Australia may be the only place for future generations to observe these endangered animal species. Monarto like other similar wild life open range zoos around the world, are doing a great job in protecting and guaranteeing the continued existence of these animals through well managed breeding programs.


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