Rhinos 101

By Annie Sears

As the title would suggest, Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros—playing through June 23 at The Geary—features some lumbering pachyderms. The play isn’t really about rhinos, but they’re a constant onstage presence. Characters are always talking about rhinos, gawking at rhinos, or in some cases, transforming into rhinos. Our marketing department visited the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens to learn some fast facts about these mysterious creatures.

1. A group of rhinos is called a crash. Does that make the Rhinoceros cast a crash? A crashing cast? A casting crash?

2. Their horns are made of keratin—the same protein that makes up human fingernails!

Boone, the black rhinoceros at the San Francisco Zoo, shows off his two horns. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.

3. Some rhinos have one horn. Others have two. Gene and Berenger have a disagreement about this in Rhinoceros, so let’s break it down: There are five different species of rhinos. Two of those species, the black rhino and the white rhino, are African rhinos. The other three—Javan rhinos, Sumatran rhinos, and greater one-horned rhinos—are Asian rhinos. Sumatran, black, and white rhinos are two-horned. Javan rhinos are one-horned, as are greater one-horned rhinos (duh).

4. Some rhinos have impressive control of their upper lip. Greater one-horned and black rhinos have prehensile upper lips, which function similarly to an elephant’s trunk. They can use it to grasp things, such as. . .

Gauhati, the greater one-horned rhino at the San Francisco Zoo, stretches his prehensile upper lip. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.

5. Food. At the SF Zoo, the rhinos' primary sustenance are branches from acacia trees and orchard or Timothy hay. Dandelion leaves and romaine lettuce are special snacks, and if the rhino is really lucky, they might get to munch on a piece of melon or corn.

6. Another treat? Mud baths. Rhinos get mucky to cool off from the heat of their natural habitats and to protect themselves from sunburn. All the creases and crevices in their skin may give the appearance of armor, but it’s not invincible.

7. Depending on the species, a rhino can weigh anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 pounds—so heavy that the SF Zoo doesn’t have a scale large enough to verify exactly how much their one-horned rhinoceros, Gauhati, weighs.

8. They’ve got a wide vocal range, from huffing and snorting to squealing and trumpeting.


So why did Ionesco choose this specific animal for his play? Get your tickets, and find out for yourself before the crash’s final curtain call on June 23.

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