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Zoo Knoxville mourns the death of beloved “Polly” white rhino
December 16, 2022; 6:04 p.m.

One of the oldest rhinos in the U.S., she made an
impact on the future for her species.

polly the rhino zoo knoxville
Polly the white rhino. Image by John Black

KNOXVILLE -- Zoo Knoxville is mourning the loss of one of its most iconic residents. “Polly”, a Southern white rhinoceros, was humanely euthanized this morning due to declining health. The 54-year-old geriatric female was being treated for pain and mobility issues related to her advanced age. Over the last few days her health began to rapidly deteriorate and there were no further treatment options. After a quality-of-life assessment by her care team, the decision was made to compassionately euthanize her so she would not endure prolonged suffering.

At 54-years-old, Polly was one of the oldest rhinos in the U.S. She came to Zoo Knoxville in November of 1976 on the recommendation of the White Rhino Species Survival Plan, a collaborative effort of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to ensure a genetically healthy and protected population remain in human care as wild populations are declining and endangered. Polly gave birth to 10 calves over her lifetime and they have all gone on to join other herds and have progeny of their own.

“The Zoo has been here for 74 years, and Polly was here for 46 of those years,” said Phil Colclough, director of animal care, conservation, and education. “She is deeply a part of Zoo Knoxville. During her reproductive years she helped make Knoxville one of the most successful breeding programs for Southern white rhinos in the country. Her offspring have gone on to ensure a future for this species. Polly was always an iconic ambassador raising awareness about the toll relentless poaching for illegal wildlife trafficking is taking on wild rhinos in Africa. She left a legacy to be proud of.”

For more information on Zoo Knoxville, please visit


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