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Friday, June 21, 2024

Something Big

Mesker Park Zoo is getting ready for a new resident

Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden’s oldest building will be upgraded this summer, but the public won’t notice those changes much except for one 5,000-pound feature — a new Indian rhinoceros.

Zoo-goers can see the attraction’s newest horned resident in the late fall or early winter this year after its future indoor home is renovated. Deig Brothers was awarded the contract to provide $700,000 worth of upgrades to the Kley Memorial Building.

Mesker Park Zoo Director Erik Beck says Indian rhinos are solitary animals and can grow up to 2.5 tons and 12 feet long.

“But their personality is almost like a puppy dog,” Beck says. “They’re really personable, usually pretty tractable, and friendly.”

Kley also is home to nocturnal animals and the zoo’s prized Komodo dragon, whose exhibits will be unaffected by the work in the rhino holding area.

The Kley Memorial Building once housed the zoo’s most iconic residents: Donna the Hippo and Bunny the Elephant. Before she died in 2012, Donna was the oldest living captive hippo in the world and lived in the Kley building for 56 years. In 1999, Bunny left the zoo for an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, where she died in 2009.

Most recently, Mechi and Rupert were a pair of Indian rhinos at Kley. Mechi died in 2021, and Rupert was shipped out to breed in California in 2023.

Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden hasn’t featured a rhinoceros since Rupert, an Indian rhino, was moved to California in 2023. With $700,000 worth of upgrades on the way at Kley Memorial Building, zoo officials anticipate welcoming a new Indian rhinoceros to its attractions. PHOTO PROVIDED BY MESKER PARK ZOO & BOTANIC GARDEN

Now that the space is freed up, zoo officials decided it was a good time to upgrade the facilities for its future resident. Maintenance on the nearly 70-year-old building is constant, Beck says. The holding roof was replaced last year, and the nocturnal area was upgraded in 2021.

“We’ve made investments to the building on purpose. We think it’s worth saving,” Beck says.

The Kley building is named after Charles F. Kley, who left a $350,000 trust for the zoo when he died in 1948. The building was opened to the public on June 17, 1956. The building wasn’t the only thing named after Kley; Donna’s male hippo mate, Hippy Kley, who died in 1985, also shares his name. Donna and Hippy Kley had eight calves.

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