Friday, November 7, 2008
When a 2lb rabbit comes face to face with a 2-ton rhino, it looks like a David and Goliath encounter of the animal kind.
But the wild bunny and Umquali the female rhino have become the best of friends since the rabbit - nicknamed Robby - has begun hopping in for breakfast at the Western Plains Zoo in outback New South Wales.
He waits until Umquali gets his morning supply of hay before bobbing through the fence and joining his huge friend for a shared meal.
While Umquali munches down the hay, Robby tucks into the seeds that drop down - and the huge southern white rhinoceros is more than happy for his little friend to share the 'tucker'.
They may not have become nuzzling companions yet, but Robby has been seen tucking into seeds literally in the shadow of the rhino's ferocious-looking horn.
'It's quite a sight to see this little furry thing tucking into food beside the rhino with its tough skin,' said zoo keeper Kevin Milton.
'You usually find some bird or rabbits hanging around trying to get the seed that's in the rhino feed.'
But Robby has shown he has more courage than the rest of the colony of rabbits which live in the surrounding plains, venturing closer each day until deciding that the massive beast isn't going to cause him any serious damage.
Umquali has been in the spotlight at the zoo in recent months since giving birth in April to a calf named Nadira, making it the sixth rhino to be born in the zoo's white rhino breeding programme.
It began in 2003 when the species was brought from the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Already Nadira is piling on the pounds. Weighing 'only' 8 stone at birth, she now stands at around 32 stone.
'Her mother is a very dominant female in the herd and Nadira uses that to her advantage,' said Mr Milton.
'In a feeding frenzy Nadira pushes the other rhinos around and usually gets away with it. But once they object, Umquali the mother steps in.' Except, of course, if a little rabbit called Robby happens to drop by for a snack.
That's when Umquali stops throwing her weight around and welcomes him to the 'table'.