Friendship begins to take shape for rhinos at Phoenix Zoo

Animals are unpredictable, so it is a big day at the Phoenix Zoo when things go as planned, even if it takes some time.

It’s been more than a year since Howard the white rhino was welcomed as a companion for the zoo's female rhino, Lulu. The two were never meant to breed. Rather, they were meant to be just companions.

More than a year later, a friendship of sorts is developing.

"I was excited. I was scared," said Keeper Paige McNickle. "I was incredibly nervous, super excited, and simultaneously terrified."

McNickle and zoo staff have been waiting and watching. On April 6, the heavy gate that separated Lulu and Howie remained open, and cameras captured the behind-the-scenes moment when the two white rhinos were able to get closer.

"We were really looking for them to lay down and sleep next to each other, understanding where the fence lines were, and they wanted to seek each other out," said McNickle.

Every moment of this introduction was planned to precision, just like February 2020, when Howie was relocated across the country from a zoo in Florida.

Related: Rhino finishes cross-country journey at Phoenix Zoo

It was a 2,200-mile journey that took 31 hours of driving to complete. That journey brought the now 24-year old Howard to his new home.

Lulu and Howie are favorites for those who visit the zoo, and watching them get to know each other has been quite the journey for everyone.

Meanwhile, the area in front of the rhino exhibit has been turned into a quiet zone. Zookeepers want to make sure the noise is low, so introductions go as smoothly as possible.

As the introduction continues, behavioral observation team members help keep an eye on how it's going

While the relationship between the two white rhinos will continue to grow and evolve, keepers will continue to watch and assess, with the hope that the two rhinos enjoy each other’s company.

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