Otto the Rhino on Mom

Caregivers’ View of Otto’s First Year!

Posted in: Baby Animals, Goings on


Erika Defer, our Assistant Animal Collections Manager, shared a few memories of milestones from Otto the Rhino’s first year. We hope you enjoy following along and reminiscing!

Otto the Rhino on the day he was born

Photo: Erika Defer

April 2, 2023: The most amazing moment for me was when Otto was born. We knew we were getting close and had suspicions that it would even happen that day, but it wasn’t until we saw the feet that it felt real. We had assumed that labor would be several hours, since that is what we had read in the literature. However, from the time that we saw the amniotic sac to when Otto was on the ground, it was only 7 minutes!

Otto the Rhino few weeks

Photo: Lori McNeal (left) and Erika Defer (right)

April 2023: For about the first 1-2 weeks after she gave birth, Eesha was very protective of Otto and would put her body in between him and any person or vehicle that may be around. When Eesha started allowing Otto to come over to her caretakers, it was a huge moment to know that she felt safe enough and trusted us to be around her calf.

Otto the Rhino

Photo: Erika Defer

April 2023: Before Otto started eating hay (and even when he started nibbling on it), he would take naps in the piles of grass hay put out for his mom to eat!

Erika with Otto the Rhino

Photo: Erika Defer

May 2023: As Otto got more used to the rhino caretakers being around, he started rolling over to get belly scratches! It felt pretty incredible to have built a relationship that allowed that level of comfort and trust.

Otto the Rhino Playing with a Ball

Photo: Erika Defer

July 2023: In July, Otto received a ball that was specially made for him by one of our caretakers, Tamara Cooke. She created a ball out of firehose, that was an appropriate size for Otto, but still tough enough that Eesha wasn’t going to be able destroy it. Our whole animal staff took a field trip to watch him play with the ball for the first time!

Otto the rhino painted kiss

Photo: Lori McNeal

August 2023: As a form of enrichment, we will paint with some of our animals. We have done this over the years with our adult white rhinos, so we were hoping Otto would be interested in participating. Otto has been very engaged with painting and has created some masterpieces! Our favorite paintings he created are the baby rhino kiss prints, which are prints of him kissing the canvas! We have been able to donate prints to silent auctions to support non-profit organizations (such as the American Association of Zoo Keepers) and also will sell them to support our internship program at Safari West!

Ongava and Otto the Rhinos

Photo: Erika Defer

October – November 2023: The process of introducing Otto to his father, Ongava, was very exciting. We made sure to plan this out step by step to ensure it was done as smoothly as possible. We started by allowing them to meet through a fenceline. Ongava and Otto immediately seemed to enjoy each other’s company and would choose to lay next to each other on the fence or even exhibit play behavior. When we fully introduced all 3 rhinos, Eesha was a great mom and kept a watchful eye over Otto. Ongava engaged in a lot of play behavior with Otto, and Eesha would intervene if it started getting too rambunctious. Overall, we were very happy that they appeared to want to be in each other’s company!

A few other Caregivers share their memories…

During a thermography session, roughly six months before Otto was born, after pictures were taken we began to notice some little movements coming from Otto. Small movements turned into big kicks. We looked back at the images we took and saw a warm heat signature on Eesha’s abdomen. The heat signature was in the same spot where he was kicking!

When Otto was about three weeks old he was doing a lot of exploring of his new surroundings. One of the things he liked to explore was his mom’s face! One day he was crawling all over her head and horn. Eesha was so patient with him and just allowed him to climb.

-Kate Fox

My favorite memory with Otto is actually the first time I met him. I have never worked with rhinos before and was so surprised when he let me pet his head and made his little dolphin noises.

-Naz Kawasmi

Kate with Otto the Rhino

Photo: Kate Fox