Unusual Animal Behavior
By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis — November 20, 2010
In recent years there’s been a lot of stories (including ours) circulating about concerning “elephant artists” that paint like the abstract expressionists, or sometimes do simple still lifes or “self-portraits.” Within the USA, you can find them at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Toledo Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo. They receive a lot of publicity because people pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for this artwork, but that’s okay because the money goes toward conservation efforts.
the Cincinnati zoo appears to have cornered the market on rhino artists and their work. here we see some rhino semi-prehensile lip action as another masterwork is crafted before our very eyes.
Less well-known is the fact that, since each rhinoceros has a semi-prehensile top lip that they use to manipulate and explore things, a few zoos (those in Cincinnati and San Diego) have taught these critters to paint too. Once again, rhino enthusiasts, nature-lovers, and amused patrons of the arts purchase these original works, and the zoos take the resulting revenue and funnel it into rhino conservation, ensuring that rhino species and where they live in the wild will be preserved for future generations. Somebody has to financially secure sufficient property to maintain a rhino breeding population in perpetuity.
the cuddly, Self-effacing rhino pauses a moment to inspect his work. Arshile gorky and jackson pollock, watch out!
Moreover, all rhinos are endangered by ruthless poachers. Why? Well, there are people out there who think that rhino horn is an aphrodisiac. Rhino horn is also used in other “traditional” medicines, to fashion daggers and for various ornamental purposes.
There are five species of rhinos: black rhinos and white rhinos (found in Africa), Indian rhinos (from northern India), and Javan and Sumatran rhinos, from—you guessed it—Java and Sumatra. The Indian and Javan rhinos have only one horn, but the black, white and Sumatran rhinos have two.
Cincinnati has representatives of three of these species: Sumatran rhino, black rhino and Indian rhino. As the Cincinnati Zoo says, “Using their semi-prehensile lip, the rhinos enjoy stimulating painting sessions with the dedicated caretakers…” such paintings are perfect, unique gifts for that “person who has everything.”
The Cincinnati Zoo’s started the Rhino Rembrandts program in 2005, which raises funds for the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), an organization that promotes conservation and heightens public awareness about the plight of these endangered animals.
Much of the rhino artwork is created as the orders come in, making each a unique objet d′art.
For artwork done by Cincinnati Zoo rhinos, here are the details:
- You can receive either a painting with pictures of the artist (all non-matted), or a frame-ready, matted painting and pictures along with information on their plight, as well as a $20 gift certificate towards framing from a supporting business, The Raymond Gallery on Hyde Park Square.
- Your painting can be personalized by selecting paint colors, canvas and matting colors, as well as which rhino artist completes your work of art.
- Paint may contain foreign materials, such as soil, hay, or treat items, etc. provided during painting sessions. And don’t worry—the paint used is nontoxic.
- Matting and other materials are donated by the zoo’s friends at The Raymond Gallery on Hyde Park Square 513-871-9393.
The Cincinnati Zoo’s Rhino Rembrandts program was founded in 2005 by zookeepers Renee Carpenter and Jason Faessler.
If you have any questions, e-mail Renee Carpenter at renee.carpenterATcincinnatizoo.org.
San Diego’s Rhino Artist Moves to Kansas
Rhino painting also appeared at California’s San Diego Zoo. It was a case of “independent inventionism.” A zookeeper named Laura—unfamiliar with what was happening in Cincinnati—was watching elephants paint and it suddenly occurred to her that “Gram,” the rhino under her care, could probably learn to master the art of painting too.
while gram the rhino lived at the huge san diego zoo, he was taught to paint. here he is posing with one of his works. in 2007 gram was transferred to the tanganyika wildlife park near witchia, Kansas. it is rumored that the california rhinoceros art world has not been the same since his departure.
Laura soon discovered that it was easy to teach Gram to paint. He had already been trained to lift up each of his feet and present them for inspections, stand still when the vet took blood samples, lie down, and open his mouth. This is done via “positive reinforcement”—when Gram does what he’s supposed to, he’s rewarded with his favorite yummy treats like apples and sweet potatoes. To train him to paint, Gram needed to learn how to “target,” or touch his upper lip to a object (ultimately, the painting canvas) presented by the zookeeper. Gram started out targeting a swimming pool float affixed to the top of a broomstick, and then Laura trained him to touch a canvas. She then got him to remain still while she applied tempera paint onto his talented lip, and then she had him target the canvas and let him move his lip around on it. The result: a Rhino painting!
Gram often didn’t want to wash up after a painting session, so many zoo visitors wondered why a rhino was walking around wearing blue or yellow “lipstick.”
Even if rhinos never made a dime painting, painting is good for rhinos. It keeps their minds sharp and keeps them from getting bored.
Gram was born in 1999 at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park but lived at the San Diego Zoo until the fall of 2007. He’s now (presumably) an artist-in-residence at the Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Kansas:
Tanganyika Wildlife Park
1000 South Hawkins Lane
Goddard, KS 67052
(On the West Edge of Wichita in Goddard.)
If you collect animal art (or art by animals) a rhinoceros painting might make a fine addition to your collection.