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Rare rhino unearthed on campus

May 15, 2002

A 3,200-pound rare white rhinoceros has been buried near Picnic Point on campus for nearly two decades. Starting today, May 15, staff members from the departments of zoology, geology and wildlife ecology plan to excavate the skeletal remains.

The rhino, which once belonged to the Milwaukee County Zoo and died a natural death there, was buried near Picnic Point in 1983 to assist museum curators in preparing the bones for inclusion in the Zoological Museum’s skeletal collection — one of the better research collections of its kind in the world.

According to John Dallman, a retired curator of the museum, the rhino was too large to fit in the facility’s bug colonies, where flesh-eating beetles devour animals down to the bones. Burying the body, Dallman says, has allowed the decomposing forces of nature to do the grubby job of picking the bones clean.

These natural forces, however, have taken longer than expected. When Dallman and his crew unearthed the rhino in 1995 — when they thought the body would have fully decomposed — ligaments still connected some of the bones. Consequently, they reburied the body.

But Dallman says that this time, the rhino remains, whether they’re ready or not, are coming out.

The rhino is the last of several other large animals, including a giraffe and elephant, to be excavated by researchers from the Zoological Museum.Before burial, the rhino’s head was removed to protect the valuable horn.

Weather permitting, the excavation will take place today. Work may last more than one day. Access to the area will be restricted.

Tags: research