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Beloved Lansing rhino leaving soon to help carry on his species

Potter Park Zoo
Jaali is an eastern black rhino born at Lansing's Potter Park Zoo in 2019. He'll soon be paired with a female at a zoo in California.

A beloved young rhino born at Lansing’s Potter Park Zoo is leaving soon for a new home in California. The zoo is hosting a farewell event this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“They’re what we call a keystone species. A lot of other species rely on the stuff that they do.” – Dennis Laidler, Potter Park Zoo Education Curator

The eastern black rhino born in Lansing on Christmas Eve 2019 was named “Jaali.”

It wasn’t a reference to the holiday season. It’s a Swahili name meaning “strong one.”

It’s believed there’s only a little more than 5,000 of Jaali’s species left in the wild.

Potter Park Zoo Education Curator Dennis Laidler says while it’s important to save rhinos for their own sake, they also play a big role in their ecosystem.

“Their footprint, literally…when they browse they help shrub species actually sprout back more,” Laidler said. “Where they make wallows creates habitat for other species. So, they’re what we call a keystone species. A lot of other species rely on the stuff that they do.”

Jaali will soon leave for a zoo in California, where he’ll be paired with a female black rhino from a zoo in Cleveland.

Zoologists hope they can help save their species from the looming extinction that now faces another species, the northern white rhino.

Laidler says Jaali has become an icon in mid-Michigan, capturing hearts at a time when many of us needed a smile.

“There’s people that come and visit him once a week or every two weeks just because they’ve become attached to him,” Laidler said. “He helped a lot of people during the early months of COVID isolation. So, we want to make sure that people have a chance to say goodbye or come and see him one last time in person.”

Laidler says Jaali is expected to leave on his new adventure in the next few weeks.

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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