Cleveland zoo celebrates rhino's first birthday with watermelon, carrots

Johari gets special treats for birthday gift

CLEVELAND - Watermelon and carrots were the special birthday treat for Johari, a black rhinoceros at the Cleveland zoo, who turned one.

"I think she does know it's a special day. They don't get fresh watermelon often. They usually eat alfalfa hay and thistle," said zoo spokesman Joe Yachanin.

Celebrating birthdays of animals isn't the norm, but also isn't out of the ordinary at the Cleveland zoo. Black rhinos typically live for 40 years in captivity and any way to showcase them is beneficial.

"Black rhinos, especially, are so critically endangered. Anything that we can to help raise awareness of them is helpful," said Yachanin. "We've had a very successful rate of rhino births here. In 10 years, Inga gave birth to four healthy rhino calves. She's important to conservation because her genes aren't represented in captive population. Anytime she has a baby, it's half wild and that helps with the breeding program."

In front of a large crowd, Johari and Inga enjoyed their treats without interruption. The other two rhinos on exhibit weren't at the party so mommy and her baby could eat without being bothered.

But there wasn't any singing on Thursday as part of Johari's first birthday celebration. That already happened a day earlier.

"Kids from a summer day camp came by on Wednesday and sang Happy Birthday to Johari," Yachanin explained.

As for Yachanin's favorite part about the party? Seeing how easily a rhino can crush a watermelon.

"It took no effort at all. It's hard to really get a grasp on their size and how powerful they are until you see them manipulate an object you can relate to. That really puts it into context."

For only being one-year-old, Johari isn't so small. She weighed about 100 pounds when born and now rings in at just under 1,100 pounds. Johari has gained roughly 85 pounds a month and will continue to grow until she's 2,500 pounds.

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