Gram the Indian Rhino

Posted at 10:38 am January 29, 2007 by Cindy Spiva-Evans

 Gram meets a GIS participantThe Zoo’s Girls In Science program started out our spring semester with a Behind-the-Scenes visit to meet Gram, the Indian rhino (see previous blog, It’s That Time Again). We typically start each semester with an animal visit of some kind, so this term was no exception.

We met at school right after the final bell, then quickly made our way over to the Zoo. From the gate, we made a beeline to the rhino enclosure, then made our way into the back area for some background information and to see some fascinating biofacts.

We learned that there are currently five species of rhinos: black rhinos and white rhinos, both found in Africa, Indian rhinos from northern India, and Javan and Sumatran rhinos, from Java and Sumatra, of course. All five species are endangered due to poaching, with habitat loss severely affecting them, as well. Some rhinos have only one horn (Indian and Javan) while others have two (black, white, and Sumatran) and all are poached because of those horns. Rhino horns are used by some cultures for aphrodisiacs, traditional medicines, daggers, and for ornamental purposes.

Gram, like most Zoo animals, has been trained to respond to commands that help his keepers to care for him. He can open his mouth, back up, lie down, present his feet, and stand still for blood draws. (I keep waiting for ” roll over” but probably won’t get to see that one!) The very first skill he needed to learn, though, was to target. This means that he will touch his upper lip to a target that his keepers present””in Gram’s case it’s usually a swimming pool float attached to a broomstick. But one of his trainers has trained him to target to something else, and in so doing has revealed the fact that Gram has a very special talent–he is the only rhino in the world that can PAINT! (Read a profile about Gram and his talent.)

Grams’ keeper, Laura, trained him to touch his upper lip to a canvas, then taught him to let her put tempera paint on that same lip. When she asks him to target that painted lip to a canvas”¦voila! Rhino painting!

The girls didn’t get to see this occur, but they did get to see some of the artwork Gram has done. When I held up a picture and mentioned that it was a rhino painting, one of the girls said, ” It doesn’t look like a rhino to me.” After I explained that, no, it’s not a rhino, it was painted by a rhino,” she was more impressed!

The girls decided the best part of the visit was getting to feed the big boy, who has a personality much like a golden retriever’s. He was happy to take apples and yams from us, and always seems to enjoy the personal attention and pats that come his way. The girls all posed for photos, of course, and we left at the end of the afternoon feeling amazed at the opportunity to have interacted with not only a critically endangered species, but one with such an engaging personality. Thanks, Gram, for being such a wonderful ambassador for your species!

Cindy Spiva-Evans is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.

Girls In Science is a program for Roosevelt Middle School girls which creates science-based experiences with professional women at the San Diego Zoo. The program is funded through the generosity of the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Read about previous Girls In Science activities.

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6 Responses to “Gram the Indian Rhino”

  1. Shirley Sykes says:

    Thanks for your blog, Cindy. This is such a great opportunity for our jr. highschool girls, and I know they are learning a lot about animal care and conservation. Could you possibly post one of Gram’s paintings? I’ve seen paintings by elephants and orangutans, and am fortunate to have one of Tembo’s beautiful elephant abstracts on my wall. It’s a marvelous enrichment for them! Have a good whale-watching trip!!

    Moderator’s note: We’ll see if we can post one of his paintings.

  2. Margaret in VA says:

    Thanks, Cindy. It is great to find out about the personalities and talents of all the animals at the zoo. It is an especially wonder-full opportunity for the girls to interact with an endangered species in a way that they would not normally encounter. They can learn so much about the needs of zoo creatures, and in turn about the world in which they live, and how they can make a difference.

    Kudos to all, look forward to seeing Gram’s artwork. He, Janey, and Tembo can have their own art exhibition.

  3. Kaylee Oropallo says:

    Hi My name is Kaylee and I am doing a report on Indian Rhinos and I was hoping you could help me with some of my questions. What is Gram the rhino’s personality? What are ome typical/normal behaviors that Indian Rhinos do? Do you know of any organizations that help save the rhinos? Thank you for you help

    Kaylee Oropallo

    3rd Grade student

    Cobblestone Elementary

    Rocklin, CA

    Moderator’s note: You can read more about Gram at

    The San Diego Zoo is working on several projects to help rhinos. You can read about our work with black rhinos at

  4. Leia says:

    Thanks for your blog. I just wanted to note that Gram is not the only rhino in the world who can paint. Several of the rhinos at the Cincinnati Zoo also paint. They are part of a program called ” Rhino Rembrandts,” which launched in 2005. You can read about them and see some paintings on their Web site. Also, a great source for information about rhinos in general is the Web site of the International Rhino Foundation.

    These are fascinating animals, and we should do all we can to protect them.

  5. Kaylee Oroapllo says:

    Dear Rhino Exibit,

    I found out all my ancers about Indian Rhinos!!! I don’t think that you know that Rhinos were indangered in 2007 and i think are still indangered because hunters come out to the sahara desurt and kill them for their horns. It’s really sad that these wonderful, magnificent animals are waisted for no other reason but to have a rhino horn.:( Please save the rhinos befor they became exstinced forever. In 2007 when i did my reserch only 25,000 were left so PLEASE, PLEASE hlep them.



  6. Jason says:

    Just saw Gram the Rhino at Tanjanyika in Kansas. Just had to buy one of his painings. Gram looks very happy in his ‘swimming hole’.