What’s it like to work as a rhino keeper at Knowsley Safari Park

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As the latest arrival to Knowsley Safari’s crash of white rhinos, Nomvula, enjoys summer on the safari drive, Knowsley’s team of rhino keepers are lifting the lid on their day-to-day lives.

Ever wondered what it’s like to wake up for work, grab a coffee and know that you are going face-to-face with, two tonne, critically endangered animals? That’s exactly how Jason Doherty, Leah Drury and Jon Moss spend every working day.

The keepers, who have been taking care of the crash of white rhinos at Knowsley Safari for a combined 30 years and between them, have watched 15 calves grow alongside the new rhino mothers.

Catering for a 10 stone calf is never easy, but with the recent arrival of Nomvula, 21-year-old Meru’s sixth calf, the team at Knowsley Safari are recognised as one of the top white rhino breeders in Europe.

Jason said: “In my time here, I’ve bonded with so many of our newborns, but Nomvula has captured the heart of everyone with her mischievous ways and playful nature.

“She’s definitely one of our more curious calves and is getting to know the wildebeest and eland as she explores the 100-acre habitat with the rest of the crash.”

Nomvula was born on Janaury 2 this year and can be seen exploring the safari drive.

Leah added: “I had to leave for a research trip in Senegal shortly after Nomvula arrived and it was a shame to miss her early days but we are more than making up for lost time now.

“She is so confident and very bright. She’s already learning and mastering many behaviours from her mother. It’s always exciting to have new arrivals as not only does it give us someone new to coo over, it also gives us a platform to talk about why the breeding programmes for endangered species, especially the white rhino, are so important across all animal collections.”

White rhinos are one of the most hunted animals in the wild and according to 2010 figures from IUCN there are only 20,107 left in the wild.

A total of 1,215 white rhinos were killed in 2014. As part of their conservation work, Knowsley Safari have helped to fund the important work done by the Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT) with over £26,000 donated so far via direct sponsorship from visitor donations and fundraising activities since 2012.

The LRT are a conservation organisation, operating primarily in Zimbabwe to help reduce poaching and increase the chances of the long-term survival of rhinos, one of Africa’s ‘big five’ wild animals.

Caring for an animal of this size takes a lot of work and understanding, something the keepers are constantly aware of.

Jon said: “It’s important to develop a bond with each of the rhino’s.

“They’re so much more intelligent, social and tactile than visitors would think and respond well to the sound of our voices and touch.

“We do lot’s of training with the rhino crash, the rhinos learn behaviours that allow them to work safely in our housing facility with us allowing us to check their feet, ears and eyes and even cooperatively take blood samples from them.”

Leah added: “It’s really important that we are consistent with our subtle training methods as rhinos are also creatures of habit.

“Our rhino crash mimics lots of natural behaviours you would see from white rhino in the wild and most of our visitors have probably noticed the presence of rhino dung piles along the road but might not realise this is the way that rhinos in the wild would mark their territory.

“This is called a rhino ‘midden’ and is one way rhinos find out which other rhinos are roaming in the same area, due to our large 100-acre space for the rhinos, they are able to leave these markers for each other just as they would in the wild.”