Riverbanks Zoo and Garden Leads the Charge in Conservation of White Rhinos

Columbia, S.C. – Riverbanks Zoo and Garden will celebrate World Rhino Day on September 22 by sharing the team’s groundbreaking work with the Zoo’s herd of southern white rhinos. Since August 2022, Riverbanks has worked closely with researchers at the American Institute of Rhinoceros Science (AIRS) to obtain blood samples from the rhinos through hands-on training approaches. Drawing blood samples is difficult but working with a multi-ton rhino to voluntarily allow a blood draw is something else entirely.

Through an abundance of training sessions, countless hours of keeper work, and even a barn renovation, two rhinos at Riverbanks have learned to voluntarily give blood samples. White rhino Bill has done so well that keepers and vet staff have advanced to plasma collection. As of this summer, they collected over 78 vials of plasma (the part of the blood that carries important antibodies and proteins to help fight disease).

Plasma transfusions can be the difference between life and death for young rhino calves or adults facing intense illnesses. Riverbanks is one of only three facilities to have repeatedly drawn plasma voluntarily from a white rhino. With that distinction, a Riverbanks keeper was sent to a three-day International Rhino Keeper Association workshop in Ohio. The keeper led a presentation detailing the long journey to this accomplishment. The response was astounding with many zoological institutions reaching out to implement Riverbanks’ procedures at their own facilities.

One inquiry came from a rhino conservation center and orphanage in South Africa, an institution working to protect and rehabilitate rhinos in their natural habitat. Riverbanks’ collaboration with them is extremely meaningful because it shows how the hard work of the keepers along with the work of the Zoo’s small herd is directly impacting the conservation of wild white rhinos. Hopes are high that these results will continue to flourish and one day Riverbanks could be capable of shipping life-saving rhino plasma to other facilities in need.

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