A Heartwarming Rhino Romance at Rhino Savanna

Nia and Jaali find love at the zoo.



(Tharuka Photographer / Shutterstock.com)

The arid Coachella Valley is California celebrates a brand new celebrity couple. Nia and Jaali, People reports, have roots in Southeast Africa, although they relocated to sunny California from Cleveland and Michigan respectively.

The lovers, a pair of black rhinos, settled down at the Living Desert Zoo and Garden, where they’ve been spotted on a number of public dates. Now, zookeepers and fans alike are wondering when this cute couple will take their relationship to the next level. 

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Rhino Savanna
Rhino Savanna is a relatively new exhibit at the Living Desert Zoo and Garden. It opened in 2022 when black rhino’s Nia and Jaali were matched through an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan as potential mates, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums reports.

The couple was moved to separate enclosures in the African section of the zoo that hosts 12  fother African species, including waterbuck, springbok, pelicans, and even naked mole rats, an exhibition that is the result of a $17 million dollar investment on behalf of the zoo. 

“Through years of planning and construction, the new Rhino Savanna is a cutting-edge space focused on animal wellbeing and choice,” RoxAnna Breitigan, the director of animal care shared. “I am so proud of the team for all of their hard work and efforts in making this space possible, as well  as their ongoing commitment to the animals in our care. I am excited for our community to experience this new space and learn more about these fascinating animals.”

Allen Monroe, the president and chief executive officer of The Living Desert shared that “We are excited to officially welcome guests to the new Rhino Savanna. This expansion means so much to so many, and we look forward to celebrating this gift with the Coachella Valley.”

“This opening also signifies a deep commitment to The Living Desert’s conservation initiatives to protect black rhinos in their native range,” Monroe added.

Love at first sight
People Magazine describes the process of the rhinos moving into their new home. When Nia, and Jaali, who’s name is pronounced “Jolly” first moved in, they were given separate enclosures, where they could sense, but not interact with each other.

"Black rhinos are solitary by nature,” Monroe tells People. “The general thought is that absence makes the heart grow fonder. So we had Jaali on one side of the habitat and Nia on the other. They can see each other. They can smell each other. We also switch them back and forth, so it's a little bit of a 'Who's been sleeping in my bed sort of thing.’”

Finally in December of 2023, the pair had reached maturity and were ready to begin rhino speed dating. Nia and Jaali’s keepers opened up the gates that separated the two rhino’s enclosures, and stood back to let the couple meet each other for the first time.

The first thing Nia and Jaali did was rub their horns together. Monroe explained the rationale. “Nia is trying to make sure that Jaali's up to snuff and has the strength and the good genes to pass along to her offspring. So they spent about a half an hour doing this sort of sumo wrestling back and forth.”

Rhino dating
After the two rhinos shared their first date, they were then placed back into separate enclosures. "If they were put together all the time, then they're going to wear each other out,” Monroe explained. “Jaali's going to chase Nia pretty regularly, and we don't want that to happen. These are large animals, so they can physically damage each other if they get frustrated. So we try and manage their - we call them dates. It's not the appropriate term, but it's a human corollary that makes sense.”

For now, the keepers facilitate rhino meetups every few days, and zoo guests can watch the pair get together and wrestle, wallow in the mud, or chase each other around. 

"Rhino females have a relatively short reproductive period. It's only about three days out of the month, give or take. Nia's ovulation cycle is every 25 to 30 days. We can tell when she's approaching that both by her activity and Jaali's interest in her, so we try and time their introductions for that peak on breeding time," Monroe shares.

But Monroe expects the couple to take their budding romance slowly. "We expect it could take six to 12 months for there to be a successful copulation and pregnancy,” Monroe clarifies. “They're using hormones and natural instinct to determine what's going on and what they need to do. So we have our fingers crossed, but we realistically expect it'll take a while," Monroe says, adding that rhinos have a 15-month gestation period, so "a little baby rhino is probably realistically at least three years away."

Saving the rhinos
Nia and Jaali’s relationship is part of an initiative to breed and conserve the critically endangered black rhino species. According to the World Wildlife Fund, in 1995 there were only an estimated 2,500 rhinos, thanks largely to illegal poaching. 

Black rhino horns are used for traditional medicine and as a symbol of affluence, making rhinos a target for hunting. In the last few decades, thanks to conservationists and anti-poaching regulations., the rhino population has more than doubled to an estimated 6,000 worldwide, but remains endangered. 

Monroe tells People Magazine, "Only about 6,000 black rhinos are left on the planet right now. That's an incredibly small number. It's all due strictly to human greed and avarice. It's from that desire to own a souvenir from a black rhino, that beautiful horn. It's a rhino's Swiss army knife. They use it for all sorts of things. To defend themselves, to dig holes. Jaali and Nia like to use it as a Ginsu knife to chop open pumpkins and watermelons, for instance."

But, Monroe hopes that by connecting rhinos like Nia and Jaali to the public, more people will become invested in conservation efforts. 

"The more people who have connections with these rhinos,” he explains. “The more people will tell their friends and neighbors and share the message that black rhinos are in danger and it's all because of human activity.”

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