TOYOHASHI, Aichi Prefecture--Two South African white rhinos who escaped poachers who killed their mothers have found a new home here, playing a part in an anti-poaching movement.
"Tandy! Tom! Come over here!" Hidekazu Ohashi, a staff member at the Toyohashi Zoo and Botanical Park, beckoned the pair toward him. The rhinos, each weighing more than two tons, slowly approached him as soon as they heard their names being called.
Acting a lot like puppy dogs, they appear quite attached to Ohashi and interact with visitors in a friendly manner.
"They love humans. They want to be touched by humans. They stand by me as long as I caress them," said Ohashi.
But how they became man’s best friend is far from a fairy tale.
Female rhino Tandy was estimated at 18 months old and male Tom was believed to be about 2 years old when they arrived in 1992 at the park in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, also known as Non Hoi Park after being rescued by park rangers in South Africa.
Tom had injuries to his back when he was saved and continued to receive medical treatment for a while even after coming to the park.
White rhinos in South Africa have been a target of poachers and the illegal wildlife trade. Some people believe in a superstition that drinking powdered rhino horns cures diseases. Poachers only target grown rhinos, ignoring their calves, who require care from parents to survive.
White rhinos are known for their general friendliness, but Tandy and Tom, raised by humans, are exceptionally affectionate to people because of their pasts.
The park has hosted a quite popular activity called "rhino touch," where zoo visitors can pet the pair.
"They're just like siblings," Ohashi said about Tandy and Tom's relationship, saying no mating behavior has been observed between the two.
Hoping to turn the tide in the decline in the white rhino population, the park brought in female rhino Sophia last year, who was born in a facility in South Africa. The park plans to have the three of them together on view in the near future.
The park is currently hosting an event to educate the public about the condition of white rhinos and worldwide anti-poaching efforts in cooperation with a nonprofit organization. It includes 769 origami rhinos, dedicated to the number of the species poachers killed in South Africa last year. The event will continue until April 7.