I am sure that everyone reading this post has been to the Zoo at sometime in their life. I grew up going to the Cincinnati Zoo and have tried to visit others when in cities around the country. I remember being overwhelmed by the size of the Detroit Zoo when I first moved here in 1975. While Cincy’s Zoo was geographically constricted in size by residential development on all sides, Detroit’s vast expanse reminded me of European Zoos which served as a community gathering place – a place to meet friends, share a picnic lunch and spend a wonderful afternoon. The last 37 years have brought incredible change to the Detroit Zoo, and the constantly improving and expanding displays, the gardens (created and maintained by volunteers), the picnic areas, the kiosks, the butterfly house, and much much more make it one of the truly great zoos in the country. I was so proud of our tri-county region when the voters unanimously approved a millage for Zoo operations. I can attest that we are getting our monies’ worth.
In spite of all the years of zoo attendance, I must admit that, though I found them fascinating creatures to look at, I never felt a particular fondness for the Rhinoceros. I can usually see adults and children crowding to see the great apes, the lions and tigers, the giraffes and elephants, but rarely do they spend much time with the Rhinos.
That changed when my wife and I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes and meet Judy Stephens. Judy lives and breathes Rhinos. Not only was she kind enough to allow us to meet her 2 male charges, but she worked with them in such a way that they felt comfortable enough to allow our touch (as you can see above in the pictures Judy volunteered to take). We stood transfixed as she told us her history with both black and white Rhinos and the differences between the two in child rearing and other behaviors. She shared stories and pictures that brought laughs and tears. I guarantee that every one of our visits to the ZOO from now on will entail our hurrying straight to the back to see what the boys are up to.
I want to end this posting with a request. Rhinos are subject to foot problems, usually exacerbated by the cement floors that exist in their indoor quarters. Some zoos have been able to create mudrooms that can help to reduce such problems. Judy Stephens has created a design for such a room that could be constructed just outside the Rhino’s indoor quarters. She needs a professional to convert this design into a formal architectural plan and then we need to raise the funds to make it happen. I know that our community has many caring individuals with a broad range of expertise. If anyone out there is ready for such a task, or you know anyone who would be interested, please have them contact me. I guarantee that one meeting with Judy and her rhinos will have you hooked!