Treatment time for Werribee Open Range Zoo's Largest animals

02 October 2020

Zookeepers are pampering some of Werribee Open Range Zoo’s largest residents – a crash of Southern white rhinoceros and a bloat of Common hippopotamus – with hydrating skincare treatments as Victoria braces for a warm and windy spring.

Werribee Zoo’s six rhinos were given full body mud-masks this week, while the five neighbouring hippos were misted with bath oil and treated with manuka honey ointment to prevent dry, chapped skin from the dramatic Australian seasonal changes.

The preventative skincare regime is an integral part of both animals’ monthly healthcare routines, and occurs more frequently throughout winter and spring. It supplements their natural behaviour of dipping into ponds and mud wallows to regulate body temperature and rehydrate.

Werribee Open Range Zoo Savannah Keeper Laura Harbridge said both the rhinos and hippos, who are native to sub-tropical Africa where summer seasons are typically wet and humid, required proactive skincare treatment.

“Hippos produce an oily secretion that absorbs some UV light, acting a little like sunscreen, and helps them split their time in water and on land,” Ms Harbridge said. “We give this natural process a helping hand with the oil spray and ointment to keep their skin healthy and hydrated.

“The oil we use is perfume and preservative free, so it’s healthy for the hippos’ skin and the organisms that live in their three bathing pools.”

Ms Harbridge said the mud treatments not only prevent sun damage to the zoo’s rhinos, but also promote positive behaviours.

“We hand-coat the rhinos in mud to reinforce tactile conditioning. This helps develop trust between the rhino and the keeper, making routine health check-ups easier and any necessary close contact interactions safer and more enjoyable for everyone.”

Both the Southern white rhino and Common hippo are under serious threat in the wild from illegal poaching and habitat loss. It’s estimated that there are less than 20,000 Southern white rhinos remaining in the wild, while hippo numbers have dropped 95 percent since the beginning of the 21st century, and are now estimated at 125,000.

The rhinos and hippos at Werribee Open Range Zoo are part of a regional breeding program to maintain an insurance population in the fight against extinction.

While Werribee Open Range Zoo is temporarily closed to members and visitors, animal lovers at home can stay connected with the Zoo’s lions through Zoos Victoria’s live stream cameras at www.zoo.org.au/animals-at-home.