Memphis Zoo Mourns the Loss of Tombi the Rhino
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Memphis Zoo Mourns the Loss of Tombi the Rhino

The Memphis Zoo is deeply saddened to announce the death of “Tombi,” the Zoo’s Southern white rhinoceros. Tombi died September 27 at the age of 41 after her health began to dramatically decline earlier this month. 

 As Zoo keepers and veterinarians began to notice her decline, she was put on Zoo hospice care to closely monitor her health and keep her as comfortable as possible. Out of the Zoo’s deep love for this animal, the decision was made to euthanize her in order to avoid prolonging any suffering.   

“Tombi has been at the Zoo a long time,” said Chuck Brady, Memphis Zoo President. “She is a beloved part of the Zoo’s history, and was a wonderful animal. She had a great life, and we’re proud of the care we gave her.”   

Tombi was a wild-caught animal that resided in Virginia, before being brought to the Memphis Zoo in April 1976. She joined her new mate, “Bacxa”, in the rhino exhibit. Bacxa died in February 1990, and Tombi’s second mate, “Pendullah,” lovingly referred to as “Mugs” died in July 2006.   

Over time Tombi developed deep, trusting, loving relationships with her keepers and veterinarians. As she learned, they respected her and she began to trust them.   

“She was one of the first animals we were able to train to do standing blood draws,” said Houston Winbigler, Assistant Curator. “That was not how it was done in the old days, but she let us do it.”   

 Matt Thompson, Director of Animal Programs, agreed.   

“Just being around her was special,” said Thompson. “For being so big and tough, she was such a gentle animal. She loved to be rubbed down. She loved to be talked to.”   

In fact, Tombi was somewhat of an indulged animal. Amanda Hadicke, Rhino Keeper at the Memphis Zoo, remembered Tombi’s feelings about rain.   “She didn’t like rain or water,” Hadicke said. 

“She loved to be pampered. We recently renovated the Elephant and Rhino exhibit. She was inside for some time while we were remodeling. She absolutely loved it. She loved having the run of the place, but her favorite pastime was laying in front of all the fans. She also really enjoyed sycamore sticks – the deader, the better,” Hadicke said.   

Tombi developed a special relationship with “Tyranza,” one of the Zoo’s female African elephants. They were neighbors for 37 years and developed a special bond. According to Hadicke, Tombi would lay in the sand pit in her yard, next to the fence that separated the elephants from the rhino exhibit. Ty would stroke Tombi’s back with her trunk as she laid there.   

 “You could tell [Tombi] loved it by the way her tail curled up,” Hadicke said.   

Tyranza strokes Tombi's back. 

 Another thing she loved was being a mother, and being a fierce one at that.   “She was one of the best moms in the Zoo,” Thompson remembered. “She was a great mother, and really cared for her little ones. She was very protective.” So protective, in fact, that she would let everyone know, including her mates.   

“All of her babies would try to push the envelope with their father [Mugs],” Thompson said, smiling. “And he would generally take it. There was one time, however, that he got on her bad side. The youngster stepped over his horn, and Mugs lifted his head. The young rhino was picked up, and Tombi jumped into action. She charged him like the protective mother she was. Poor Mugs didn’t know what to do.”   

The Memphis Zoo family will miss its beloved “Tombi-rhino.”   

The Memphis Zoo will work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to acquire Southern white rhinos for future exhibits. Visitors who would like to pay their respects may  leave cards and flowers at the rhino statue of the Zoo’s front plaza.   

 About the Memphis Zoo Southern White Rhinos
 The Memphis Zoo has had Southern white rhinos in its collection since the mid-1960s. They could originally be seen where CHINA is now, before moving to their current home in the African Veldt.   

Half of their waking hours is spent eating, while a third of their time is spent resting. According to Hadicke, Tombi was quite the snorer.   

About the Memphis Zoo 
The Memphis Zoo, located in Memphis, Tenn., is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 500 different species. Recently named as one of the top zoos in the country by TripAdvisor®, the Memphis Zoo has completed over $93 million in renovation and expansion since the early 1990s. The Zoo's animal inhabitants reside in one-of-a-kind exhibitry, such as Once Upon A Farm, Commercial Appeal Cat Country, Primate Canyon, Animals of the Night, Northwest Passage, Teton Trek and CHINA - home to giant pandas YaYa and Le Le. The Zoo was founded in 1906 and resides on 70 acres in the middle of Overton Park. The Memphis Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Memphis Zoo, YaYa and Le Le are trademarks of the Memphis Zoo.

Posted by Zoo Info at 3:16 PM