From a media release sent from the NC Zoo this afternoon:
"[Monday] evening was an especially busy time for zookeepers at the North Carolina Zoo as seven new animals arrived at the park between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. The latest additions to the zoo’s animal collection included a harp seal and six Southern white rhinos.
"The harp seal is a six-foot long, 300-pound male that was found stranded on a beach near Sea Bright, New Jersey, in February, according to Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) in Brigantine, New Jersey. The seal was malnourished and suffered from blindness in one eye and poor vision in the other, Schoelkopf said. His eye problems made it difficult [for it] to catch fish and left the animal unsuitable for release back into the ocean.
"After more than two months of rehabilitation at the MMSC, the harp seal had regained its weight and the center began looking for a permanent home, Schoelkopf said. They chose the N.C. Zoo because of its experienced keeper staff and spacious outdoor exhibit for seals and sea lions. While not endangered, the harp seal is a protected species and it is rare for the species to be exhibited in a zoo or aquarium, according to Schoelkopf. Only two others are exhibited in the U.S, at the Detroit Zoo and Sea World of Florida.
"Harp seals are found in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans from northern Russia, to Newfoundland and the Gulf of the St. Lawrence in Canada. Following a 30-day quarantine required for all new animals coming to the zoo, the harp seal will be gradually introduced to the zoo’s two sea lions in the Rocky Coast exhibit complex located in the zoo’s North American region. If that process goes smoothly, it may be on public view by early summer.
"The six Southern white rhinos arrived on two large trucks from the White Oak Plantation, a sanctuary and research facility for endangered and exotic animals in Yulee, Florida. The group includes three adult females, each with a juvenile calf just over one year old. Two of the calves are male and one is female.
"The rhinos’ arrival is part of an ongoing $8.5 million expansion of the N.C. Zoo’s elephant and rhinoceros exhibits and holding facilities. The project was developed in support of a nationwide effort by zoos to improve the captive care and breeding of both species. Dubbed the Watani Grasslands Reserve (Watani is a Swahili term meaning “fatherland), nearly $7 million of the project’s cost has been raised [so far] through private contributions to the N.C. Zoological Society... Construction began in November 2005 with the grand opening scheduled for spring 2008.
"The zoo’s existing 3.5-acre elephant habitat is being combined with the adjacent rhino exhibit to create a 7-acre exhibit just for elephants. A new $2.5 million dollar holding barn for elephants is also under construction. Following their mandatory quarantine period, the new rhinos will be introduced to the park's existing collection of three adults to create a 9-member herd.
"Plans call for the rhinos to be relocated to the 37-acre African Plains habitat where they will be exhibited along with seven species of African antelopes. Zoo officials hope the new rhinos can join the existing herd on exhibit by mid-summer."