Around the Mall & Beyond

Since her arrival in September, baby Chitwan has charmed visitors and curators alike. This is the first birth of a rhino at the National Zoo since 1974

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"People in dark shirts are apt to be workmen, who make sparks with their welding machines and hammer on things. So they aren't so happy with dark shirts."

When a photographer climbed all over the enclosure to take the first pictures of the baby, Mechi was amenable since the woman wore a light shirt. She came back later, however, wearing a dark blue outfit. Mechi made a distinctly rude gesture with her massive horn.

After breakfast and a shower, delivered through a hose by Holden, Chitwan and her mom keep busy with a stroll outside, a roll in the mud and then a snooze in the sun. When visitors arrive, the pair are usually sleeping.

The afternoon is Chitwan's best time.

"She runs and runs," says Holden. "She goes outside and gallops and gallops. One day a keeper came by with a white food cart, and Chitwan came flying through the air right across the enclosure, snorting and squealing. She was just playing, I think. Practicing. She's getting more personality every day."

Well, personality is as personality does. I am not so sure I want to dandle her anymore.

"The baby will nurse for two years," says her keeper, "though she'll get solid foods, too, after six months, like soft grass and maple leaves with the stems pulled off. The baby nurses every hour, night and day. And she's gaining five pounds a day."

To enable her to make all that milk, Mechi puts away more than half a bale of hay a day, say 30 pounds, plus 8 pounds each of fresh produce and grains, and a whole lot of water.

"She's picky," observes Holden. "She'll eat carrots if that's all there is, but she'd rather have something sweeter, like apples or sweet potatoes. They love green beans."

The mother is so tenderly attentive that staff keep wandering over from other duties to watch them. Mechi is careful not to roll on her baby, her first after a stillbirth. Both of them defecate in the same place every day, which is typical of rhinos, and Mom always covers Chitwan's bright orange production with her own dark brown one.


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