Sweet, soulful, smart: Meet the black Eastern rhino at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo – Colorado Springs Gazette


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Jumbe, a black Eastern rhino, gobbles an apple slice from lead zookeeper Ilana Cobban’s hands at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo this month. Native to East Africa, black rhinos are listed as critically endangered in the wild.
Eastern black rhinos tend to live between 15 to 20 years. They have prehensile upper lips designed for foraging in savanna and shrubland ecosystems. Populations exist in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Rwanda.
Jumbe, a black Eastern rhino at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, inquisitively peers at the camera. Senior lead keeper Ilana Cobban explains he knows a variety of commands, including turning around, backing up, and raising his feet.
Eastern black rhinos rely on a strong sense of hearing, reflected in their cone-shaped ears, rather than their poor eyesight.
Visitors prepare to feed Jumbe, a 19-year-old Eastern black rhino, at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Eastern black rhinos are listed as critically endangered with approximately 583 adults in the wild, according to a 2020 census by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Mature Eastern black rhino adults can weigh up to 3,000 lbs and run over 30 mph despite their short and stubby legs. 

Jumbe, a black Eastern rhino, gobbles an apple slice from lead zookeeper Ilana Cobban’s hands at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo this month. Native to East Africa, black rhinos are listed as critically endangered in the wild.
Eastern black rhinos tend to live between 15 to 20 years. They have prehensile upper lips designed for foraging in savanna and shrubland ecosystems. Populations exist in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Rwanda.
Jumbe, a black Eastern rhino at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, inquisitively peers at the camera. Senior lead keeper Ilana Cobban explains he knows a variety of commands, including turning around, backing up, and raising his feet.
Eastern black rhinos rely on a strong sense of hearing, reflected in their cone-shaped ears, rather than their poor eyesight.
Visitors prepare to feed Jumbe, a 19-year-old Eastern black rhino, at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Eastern black rhinos are listed as critically endangered with approximately 583 adults in the wild, according to a 2020 census by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Mature Eastern black rhino adults can weigh up to 3,000 lbs and run over 30 mph despite their short and stubby legs. 
It’s high noon at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and Jumbe knows what that means: snack time with strangers.
The 2,700-pound, black Eastern rhino comes ambling out of his enclosure and down his yard to the fence, where zoo visitors have paid $10 to $15 per bundle of produce for the pleasure of placing a whole carrot under Jumbe’s (jume-bay) prehensile upper lip and watching him engulf the treat. So good is said carrot, hunk of cantaloupe or honeydew melon, that the big guy closes his eyes and mouth, and appears to be lost in a fruity daze.
“He’s sucking on a piece of food inside his mouth,” said senior lead keeper Ilana Cobban. “He’s sucking the juice out. Look at his eyes. He’s in heaven.”
Jumbe, the zoo’s only rhino, arrived almost a decade ago from Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas, where he was born. The African Rift Valley exhibit had just opened, and they wanted a rhino, plus Caldwell Zoo was trying to make some room. The 19-year-old Jumbe was an ideal candidate.
Is he lonesome?
No, he’s cool with being a solo dude with two horns. His social interactions come from his keepers, who adore him, and the African elephants, who live next door. Jumbe loves to watch them, and can often be caught staring while they dollop themselves in mud at their mud wallow. He has his own mud wallow, but sometimes his buddies get a little messy and accidentally fling some on Jumbe.
Cobban likes to tell the story of the day Jumbe ran with the elephants. He started running up and down his yard, and one of his next-door compadres started running up and down with him, stopping when Jumbe stopped, turning when Jumbe turned. “They were playing a weird form of catch me,” she said.
This guy’s got soul
His keeper also likes to wax poetic about the giant herbivore she’s taken care of for the last decade: “He looks like a giant tough guy, but he’s the gentlest soul. His eyes are so soulful. Inside he’s so sweet. He’s so smart. I can see the lightbulb moment go on when we’re training.”
Smart but not such great sight
Thoughtful, observant and wildly intelligent: “I don’t think people understand how smart rhinos are,” Cobban said. The creatures don’t have great eyesight; their eyes are fairly small for the size of their heads. But they can hear and smell like nobody’s business. So Jumbe can hear and smell everything but can’t necessarily see it, which means he approaches unfamiliar objects with great thoughtfulness. And like any rhino, if he gets startled by something, he’s hightailing it out of there.
“He notices everything, smells everything, hears everything,” Cobban said. “Once he understands it, he’s good.”
Living the good life
Jumbe’s not an early bird gets the worm kind of guy, so he’s still sleeping when keepers show up. They rub his belly through the bars of his enclosure, as he sleepily stretches and comes back to life. The promise of fruits and veggies and a training session further motivate him to rise and shine. That’s all followed by hanging out with the elephants and zoo visitors, and percolating in his mud wallow, which is how he cares for his super sensitive skin and also thwarts bugs.
What’s up with his lip and horns?
That curvy, flexible prehensile upper lip allows rhinos to pull branches down for a good munching session. Jumbe gets more than 50 pounds of elm, willow and cottonwood branches every day. That’s on top of his fruits and veggie diet: “He’s a gassy animal. He eats lots of fiber,” Cobban said.
He’s also a lover of blueberry bagels and strawberry bread.
Who are the rhino’s predators?
In their natural habitat — the eastern African savannahs and shrub lands — baby rhinos are at the mercy of lions and hyenas. But the biggest threats to critically endangered adult Eastern black rhinos are humans, who kill them for their horns made of keratin, the same type of protein that makes up our hair, skin and nails. Fewer than 600 remain in the wild, though populations are increasing thanks to conservation efforts and protections.
That includes Tsavo Trust, the zoo’s frontline conservation partner in Kenya that protects African elephants and rhinos from poaching and other threats. Zoo visitors who have purchased scrumptious noontime snacks for Jumbe have helped send $75,000 to the trust.
Contact the writer: 636-0270
Contact the writer: 636-0270
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo welcomed throngs of visitors Wednesday to wish one very special hippo, Omo, a happy first birthday. 
A&E and features reporter
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