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Brevard rhino sent to Alabama for breeding program

8:09 AM, Nov 8, 2012   |    comments
Max the rhino was a resident of the Brevard Zoo for three years, but he was recently moved to the Birmingham Zoo to become part of a national breeding program.
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MELBOURNE, Fla. -- Max is 5 feet 9 inches tall and 4 feet wide. With three toes on each foot and a hankering for mud-wallowing.

And despite all that he's a budding playboy - so much so that the white rhinoceros was recently moved from the Brevard Zoo to the Birmingham Zoo, where he'll be part of a national breeding program.

Yes, lust, love and fatherhood might be afoot for 13-year-old Max, who'd been a resident of the Brevard Zoo since 2003, said Michelle Smurl, director of animal programs and conservation.

In the eyes of officials of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan, Max is seen as the perfect potential mate for the Alabama venue's two, female Southern white rhinos, Laptop and Ajabu.

"The overall number of white rhinoceroses has been declining in the wild due to illegal poaching for their ivory and habitat destruction," Smurl said. The Southern white rhino species is classified as "near threatened," with only about 20,150 left in the wild.

So it's 5,500-pound Max to the rescue? Hopefully.

"While Max has been a big part of Africa (at Brevard Zoo) and will be missed, we appreciate that he has this opportunity to possibly mate and contribute to the white rhinoceros population," Smurl said.

"It's easy to fall in love with Max."

Things are looking good already. To put it delicately, Max has already trained a roving rhino eye and knowing nose on a couple of lady friends.

"He is doing great," said Wes Sims, Trails of Africa curator at the Birmingham facility.

"He shifts (from stall to stall) well and seems to be very interested in the girls in the adjacent yard. One of our keepers caught him trying to climb the fence to get a look at our girls."

So what made Max a better catch than Howard, a white rhinoceros who came to the Brevard Zoo around the same time as Max and remains here?

It's not that Max is more special than Howard, Smurl said: It's what's in his genes.

"Max was conceived in the wild, so he's genetically valuable to the entire captive white rhino population," she said.

But don't feel sorry for Howard. At 15, he, too, has a couple of main squeezes - Uzuri, 12, and Kibibi, 11, white rhinos with whom he's been sharing time on display since 2006.

Howard's been seen more and more with Uzuri lately, though, and while no one's sending out baby shower invitations just yet, "we're hoping for young in the near future," said Smurl.

"Nobody's lonely - Howard has his two girls and Max now has two girls, too."

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