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Southern white rhinoceros at North Carolina Zoo passes away


Memorable rhino had a big personality, awing zoo staff and visitors alike

The North Carolina Zoo announced the death of Natalie, a 30-year-old southern white rhinoceros who was euthanized on January 10, 2023, following a period of declining health. According to an organizational release,1 zookeepers remarked that Natalie had a “personality that matched her big 4,000+ pound size.”

Natalie the southern white rhinoceros (Photo courtesy of North Carolina Zoo).

Natalie the southern white rhinoceros (Photo courtesy of North Carolina Zoo).

Natalie was being treated for chronic kidney failure, anemia, and multisystemic disease over the last few months. “Unfortunately, her health was in a steep decline despite treatment efforts, which led to a decrease in quality of life,” said Tim Georoff, VMD, AB, associate veterinarian for the North Carolina Zoo. “This week, the animal care and vet teams made the difficult decision to euthanize Natalie when treatment efforts were no longer effective."

Georoff expressed that the full pathology report will offer more insight surrounding Natalie’s condition in the next weeks.

In 2007, Natalie arrived at the North Carolina Zoo with her son Lyonnel from White Oak Conservation Center in Florida, where she spent most of her life and birthed 2 males named Tony and Dominique. All 3 of her offspring are still alive at other accredited zoos in North America.

After elephants, southern white rhinos are the second-largest land mammal.1 They are the most social rhino species and live together in groupings referred to as "crashes." Rhinos in the wild live into their early 30s and can live into their early 40s under human care. The North Carolina Zoo currently has a rhino crash of 7 females including Linda, Kit, Abby, Nandi, Bonnie, Jojo and Mguu.

Animal management supervisor, Jade Tuttle, described Natalie, “She was an experienced mother and took on the ‘auntie’ role with our first set of calves in 2020 as they started to disperse from their mothers,” Tuttle said. “She was a very smart rhino, often leaving us wondering who was training whom. In her declining health, she began to seek out affection from staff and was dedicated to her bestie, rhino Abby. Her wild spirit was one of a kind, and she will be missed by our crash.”

Some fun facts about southern white rhinos include they...

  • Grow to 12-13 feet long and up to 6 feet from hoof to shoulder
  • Weigh 4,000 to 5,000 pounds at full maturity
  • Are herbivores who graze on grass, which helps maintain the diverse African grasslands, promote plant diversity, and offer grazing areas for other animals that share their natural habitat at the savannahs of Africa
  • Get most of their food in the wild while grazing the 40 acres of the Watani Grasslands.

By the start of the 20th century, southern white rhinos were hunted to near extinction for their horns, as they were mistakenly thought to offer medicinal benefits. Currently populations in the wild of southern white rhinos are estimated to be between 19,000-21,000 and they still confront threats from poaching and habitat loss.

The North Carolina Zoo staff works with rhinos at the zoo plus on conservation projects in various countries in Southern Africa to save this species. Through SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool), the North Carolina Zoo strives to protect rhinos and additional species in the wild. SMART is an app enabling national parks and other protected areas to be familiar with patterns of wildlife distribution and illegal activity and fight destructive activities like poaching.

Donations for rhino conservation worldwide can be made online at NC Zoo Society Anti-Poaching Programs.


North Carolina Zoo mourns loss of Natalie, rhino with ‘big personality.’ News release. North Carolina Zoo. January 17, 2023. Accessed January 20, 2023. https://www.nczoo.org/news/north-carolina-zoo-mourns-loss-natalie-rhino-big

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