KANSAS CITY (AP) — The Kansas City Zoo has a special rhino that's kept out of sight, hardly ever seen by the public.
An eastern black rhinoceros named Imara doesn't roam the species' exhibit and she's never on display. Imara instead spends all day inside a barn or a small shaded pen because of a skin condition that makes it dangerous to be in the sun, the Kansas City Star reported.
"She had a loss of melanin granules in the basal layer of her skin," said Kirk Suedmeyer, the zoo's head veterinarian.
Zoo keepers noticed one of Imara's nostrils turned pink when she was 2 years old. The pink coloring eventually "progressed to her face and her neck and her limbs," Suedmeyer said.
Ultraviolet light therapy helped Imara regain pigment in her skin. But years later, her skin lost pigment again, and she began burning and blistering in the sun. A biopsy revealed her condition, which makes her skin vulnerable to direct sunlight.
Rhino species experts recommended Imara not be bred since her condition may be genetic. Because Imara can't be paired with any of the other rhinos, she keeps company with humans.
"If this was a herd animal and it was going to be alone for the rest of its life, we might have a difference of opinion here," said Sean Putney, senior director of zoo operations. "But rhinos really are loners. After they are raised by mom, they go off on their own. So being alone isn't necessarily an issue."
Animal manager Katie Muninger said zookeepers have developed a special bond with Imara.
"Not only do we give her toys to play with and other types of enrichment, we socialize with her every day, as long as we can," Muninger said. "She's a very special rhino."