A college campus in a small East Texas town may not seem like the most likely place to find a rhinoceros. Yet, thanks to the Houston Zoo, the Sam Houston State University biology department had the opportunity to bring one of these rare creatures to campus for students to study and learn from.
Marcibit, a 38-year-old White African Rhinoceros, arrived on the campus of SHSU a few days ago after dying of unknown causes at the Houston Zoo. The 4,000 pound animal was one of just two rhinos living at the zoo at the time of her death. Both she and her mate were brought to Houston from their birthplace in South Africa in 1971. Despite her old age of 38, Marcibit never produced any offspring.
After arriving on campus, the bodies of the dead animals are either put in a freezer if they are small or put in cages at the biology department’s field station about five miles off campus.
The animal’s skeleton is the main part of the body that will be used, according to Dr. Monte Thies, biology professor and Director for the Center of Biological Field Studies. Often, the animals are skinned and their pelts are later used in biology classes. However, with skin over an inch thick, the hide of the rhinoceros will not be salvageable.
“After we’re done, we will have a complete skeleton for educational purposes,” Thies said. “We’ll use the skeleton in classes like comparative vertebrate anatomy and we’ll probably clear a display case for her as well.”
Once the department has salvaged all that can be used from the body, the rest will be disposed of appropriately.
The Houston Zoo works with several schools, including Texas A&M and the University of Texas, to distribute deceased animals free of charge.
“Unfortunately, we’re about fourth on the list,” Thies said. “The Houston Museum of Natural Science actually gets first pick. Then Texas A&M didn’t want her and UT didn’t know how to get her to Austin.”
All of the animals the university receives have gone through a necropsy, the animal equivalent of an autopsy.
“We’re just salvaging material that would otherwise go to landfill,” Thies said. “We rarely reject animals, only if their too damaged to use.
On average, Thies said the department receives anywhere from 12 to 100 animals each year.
While the university has seen a wide variety of animals in the past, such as lions, tigers and elephants, Marcibit is the first rhinoceros to come to SHSU.