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A SHOE FOR A RHINO

The rhinoceros is as prehistoric a beast as one can find today having roamed the earth for 50 million years and outlived the dinosaurs. These rhinos still inhabit the jungles of Nepal and their population shows signs of healthy increase after us humans reversed its course of annihilating these magnificent animals through greed thanks to the awareness created by a few dedicated conservation organizations and attendant scientific advances on reproductive technology. Indian Rhino Vision 2020 Program has set a target of 4,000 rhinos in the wild in Nepal, Bhutan and India. Besides the Great One-horned Indian Rhino, there are only four more species surviving today, the White and Black rhino of Africa, the Javan and the Sumatran rhino in Southeast Asia.

Not all is honky dory of course as poaching, habitat degradation and human encroachment still pose a big threat in all three countries. Nepal took a lead a long time ago by establishing the erstwhile Royal Chitwan National Park and protecting the main habitat of the rhinos and tigers. Nepal Army units guard the park from poachers and human encroachment. Even in earlier times when hunting big game animals was a sport rhinos were strictly off-limit to hunters except for the rulers and their favoured guests. During the fifties and sixties while shooting tigers by procuring a license was allowed, no license was ever issued to shoot the rhinos. There was a story recently in the news that sparked controversy. A wealthy Texan paid $350,000 for a permit to shoot a black rhino in Namibia which was auctioned by the Dallas Safari Club. The wealthy Texan has received death threats. 

I have already done a blog on Ralph S. Scott who introduced white tigers in America. What is less known is that Scott gifted three rhinos from Nepal to American zoos in the late sixties by procuring special permission from the king of Nepal while my father General Kiran Shumsher, his host of an earlier tiger shoot, was the facilitator. Gifting exotic animals as a token of goodwill by one country to another has been part of the great diplomatic game nations played from times immemorial. When I was a small boy, I remember my curiosity turning into first amazement and then pure joy while visiting our zoo at Jawalakhel built by Maharajah Juddha and gazing wide-eyed at the giraffes and zebras, hippopotamus and the red panda, animals that were gifted by friendly countries to Nepal. I can only imagine the delight those rhinos brought to countless American children in zoos such as the Crandon Park in Miami and the "Neyo" or the zoo at the Bronx in New York.

Such a boy was Paul McCarthy when, back in 1970 as a nine year old, he first saw Ralph Scott's one year old rhino Mohan at the Crandon Park Zoo in Miami. Since his childhood he has been fascinated by white tigers and rhinos. He has kindly chosen to impart to me his extensive knowledge on the subject without which I would not have been able to write this fascinating story. Paul is from Laguna Beach in Orange County, California but currently lives in Ottawa, Canada.

Mohan was caught in the wild in Nepal in 1969 by a team that included Lowell Thomas, the world's first roving newscaster, who filmed the 1919 documentary "Lawrence in Arabia" during World War I. Ralph S. Scott the hunter, world traveler and philanthropist extraordinaire financed the operation and gifted him to the 39-acre Crandon Park Zoo in Key Biscayne, Florida. Two female rhinos, Shanti and Mechi, were also taken by Ralph Scott to America for the purpose of breeding these rhinos in captivity. 

Paul McCarthy writes, "I have the book in front of me 'The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes'. Mohan had foot problems because Indian rhinos should be walking in mud and swamps and not on gravel and concrete as they do in zoos. He arrived at the National Zoo in 1998 and was paired with their female Mechi. He and Mechi left the zoo for a warmer climate (probably back to Miami since he died there). I wish the author was more specific, but maybe the studbook will say which zoo and in what year. Mo was 32 in 1998 and "genetically valuable". I'm sure she means that he was wild caught and therefore a founder, that's why he was and is genetically valuable. I say "is" genetically valuable because I am certain that his genes did not die with him. They would have frozen his sperm and his testicles and I'm sure other cells to reserve the option of breeding him in the future. The author of the book was twelve years old in 1981 so when I saw Mohan at the old Crandon Park Zoo in 1970 she would have been one year old!" No other rhino wore shoes in the history of the world!

In an article that appeared in "The Washington Post" on 24 June 2008, staff writer Gabe Oppenheim writes, "With wrinkled jowls, pimpled legs and platinum-blond ear hair, Mo has survived hurricanes and stagflation. Dry Heat and Reaganomics. Along the way, he has moved from Crandon to its expanded iteration, the 740-acre Miami Metrozoo, and from there to Washington's National Zoo in 1998. Yet Mo wouldn't take to his female friends - and people started to whisper. First it was Shanti he turned down.  Then Mechi. The star clearly wanted something else. Magill recalls Mohan would get excited every time he ate, but had less appetite for mating.


Air Mohan
Another problem: Mo's feet started giving out. Somehow, this only made him a bigger celebrity. In June of '91, he had an abscess toward the bottom of one foot. Magill couldn't get bandages to stick. He figured only a boot could do the job. And "who makes stronger rubber than Pirelli?' So Magill phoned the tire company and asked them for a "one-of-a-kind piece'. Noting the success of the Reebok Pump (the hoops shoe that inflates to fit your foot). Pirelli modeled a basketball-size galosh with a built-in air bladder. The label on the front: "Air Mohan." Mo wore it for several weeks until he healed, becoming the first sneaker-wearing rhino in the world." Mohan passed away at Zoo Miami in January 2013 aged 44 years, one of the longest living rhino in history. Gabe Oppenheim aptly titled his piece in The Washington Post, "Rhino with the World at His Feet!"

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