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NC Zoo's southern white rhino 'Olivia' dies

Zoo officials had to bear with the tough decision to euthanize her. Olivia's health took a toll on her quality of life and her ability to get around comfortably.
Credit: North Carolina Zoo

ASHEBORO, N.C. — The North Carolina Zoo announced the death of a 54-year-old southern white rhinoceros named Olivia. 

Zoo officials said due to her decline in health and her lack of ability to move around the zoo comfortably, they had to make the difficult decision to euthanize her. 

“Due to her significantly advanced age, we have been closely monitoring Olivia for any signs of declining health for the past few years,” said Dr. Jb Minter, the Zoo’s director of Animal Health and Chief Veterinarian. “The culmination of several health conditions led to a significant decrease in her quality of life and her ability to get around comfortably. The animal care and veterinary teams then made the difficult decision to euthanize Oliva.”    

RELATED: NC Zoo's elderly lion 'Reilly' dies after long battle with renal disease

Olivia was welcomed into the NC Zoo in 1987 where they attempted to breed her with a male rhino named Stan. Stan and Olivia lived together for years even though no offspring were born. 

Olivia remained in a spacious rhino annex out of view of the public until Stan died in 2019 before she was reintroduced to the other animals on the Zoo’s 40-acre Watani Grasslands. This is where she took on the role of “Great Auntie” after being amongst the younger rhinos.

As one of the oldest female rhinos in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Olivia served as an ambassador for the plight of rhinos in the wild, whose populations are threatened by poaching and habitat loss. 

"I will certainly miss Liv and her sassy attitude," said Zookeeper Anna Hinson, who cared for the rhino for several years. "Over the years, she mellowed quite a bit, and I wish the Zoo's newer keepers had been around to see ol’ Liv in her prime. Even in her golden years, it's truly remarkable how she stuck to her routine. I'll forever be richer for having worked with her."

Credit: North Carolina Zoo


Wild rhinos typically have a life expectancy of their early 30s and can live up to their early 40s under human care. Olivia surpassed that life expectancy by nearly 10 years with the extraordinary care she's seen over the years. 

Southern white rhinos were nearly hunted to extinction at the beginning of the 20th century because some people believe their horns provide medical benefits. 

Rhino horn is made up of keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails and hair. The threat faced by wild rhinos is very real.

Southern white rhinos are the most social of the rhino species and live together in groupings called “crashes.” The second-largest land mammal after elephants, southern white rhinos have two horns, grow to 12-13 feet long and up to six feet from hoof to shoulder, and weigh 4,000 to 5,000 pounds at full maturity. 

These gentle giants are herbivores and graze on grass, which helps maintain the diverse African grasslands, increase plant diversity and provide grazing areas for other animals that share their natural habitat of the savannahs in Africa.


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