Stanley, a rare white rhinoceros, has died at the NC Zoo at a ripe old age

A southern white rhinoceros named Stanley who lived at the N.C. Zoo for the past 30 years died on Friday, a few weeks after suffering from an apparent stroke.

Stanley was 49. In announcing his death, the zoo said most rhinos in the wild don’t live longer than their early 30s and that even rhinos under human care seldom survive beyond 45.

Stan, as he was known, came to the N.C. Zoo from a private zoo in New Hampshire in 1987 with a female named Olivia. It was hoped they would produce offspring together, but they never did. Olivia, 51, survives, living in the non-public barn she shared with Stan during their retirement years, said zoo spokeswoman Debbie Foster Fuchs.

Southern white rhinos live in the savannahs and grasslands of southern Africa. They were hunted to near extinction in the early 20th century because of the mistaken belief that their horns provided medicinal benefits. Their population has since rebounded to about 20,000, though zoo officials note that they still face threats from poaching and the loss of habitat.

Rhinos are the second largest land mammals after elephants. At the time of his death, Stan weighed about 4,300 pounds.

Besides Olivia, the zoo has five adult southern white rhinos — four females and one male — and two six-month-old females who were born last year, the first rhinos born at the zoo in 41 years. They live in the zoo’s 40-acre Watani Grasslands habitat, where Stan lived until his retirement from public display in 2011.

Stan was born in a game reserve in South Africa in 1970. Zoo officials say he showed signs of neurological disease following the stroke and that his health declined markedly this week. He was euthanized on Friday.

Keeper Stacey Weatherly said her fondest memories of Stan are of visits from children during the summer.

“A dozen little camper hands would be giving him rubs while he munched on his favorite treats,” Weatherly said in a statement released by the zoo. “The kids loved Stan, which further created a love of rhinos around the world. Those moments always made my heart smile the most.”

The zoo is accepting donations to support rhino conservation in remembrance of Stan at its website, www.nczoo.com/support-conservation-and-research/

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.