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Rhinos wear fitness trackers at Walt Disney World

Zoos and attractions unite to save a species
Rhinos wear fitness trackers at Walt Disney World
Posted at 12:35 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 12:35:08-04

LAKE BEUNA VISTA, Fla.  — Helen is an endangered white rhino at the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Lake Beuna Vista, Fla. she and several other rhinos have been fitted with fitness trackers.

"That will tell us which area of the exhibit the rhino is using," said "Andrew" who is a Research Programs Specialist at Disney's Animals' Science and Environment division.

"The activity tracker is very similar to a watch you would wear that measures your activity or your steps or your workouts," said Andrew.

The team wants to make sure Helen 'gets her steps in.' They are a part of a larger, collaborative research project with rhinos from accredited zoos and wildlife centers across the U.S.

"We are specifically focusing on the physical fitness of the rhinos. Looking at things like their heart rate, their body fat percentage, and their behavior and activity out on exhibit," Andrew said.

Wild rhino populations continue to dwindle due to poaching. The collaborators are looking to save the species.

"The data we are looking to collect across of a range of facilities will hopefully tell us how rhinos behave differently across different types of habitats-from large to small and everywhere in between," said Andrew.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) Rhinoceros Research Council project will focus on four areas.

  1. Physical fitness and its role in the overall health of rhinos.
  2. Iron storage in browsing rhinos – essentially, ensuring they have the right amounts of key nutrients including iron.
  3. Reproductive success, ensuring healthy populations.
  4. How behavior and environmental factors may help the well-being of rhinos.

"We're kind of developing everything from scratch, it's really really really cool, and we are really hopeful this is going to help out rhinos in managed care," said Andrew.

Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee is also conducting research overseen by the American Institute of Rhinoceros Science (AIRS) including behavioral surveys from the care team, and photos of the rhinos to assist with a body condition system, and reproductive health monitoring.