One of Perth Zoo’s biggest residents kept his cool as he celebrated his 30th birthday with a giant ice cake on Monday.
Memphis, the 2.2 tonne southern white rhino, was born at Memphis Zoo in 1987 and has been a popular drawcard since arriving in Perth in late 1989.
Along with his cake, made of fruit and vegetables frozen in juice, Memphis received a pinata stuffed with apples while several groups of schoolchildren sang him happy birthday.
Zookeeper Luke Newing, who has worked with Memphis for seven years, says the rhino is a gentle giant.
“He sometimes gets a bit moody with men, I sometimes hear a little bit of a huff and a puff in my direction, but he’s normally pretty gentle when it comes to the ladies,” he said.
Classified as conservation dependent, the species was thought to be extinct by the late 19th century until a small population was found in South Africa.
A recent explosion in poaching could see the wild population of about 20,000 rhinos disappear in up to 15 years.
“Unfortunately in the last three years or so you’re looking at 1200 to 1500 a year being poached for their horn,” Mr Newing said.
Memphis’ mammoth keratin horn would be highly valued as an ingredient in Chinese medicine and in furniture as an expensive status symbol.
“You can almost get as much benefit by chewing on your own fingernails as getting a bit of rhino horn,” Mr Newing said.
He says stopping the industry will come down to education and a slow change in tradition.
Perth Zoo runs its own animal conservation programs.
Memphis has contributed to the future of his species, fathering two offspring.