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George the rare black rhino, R.I.P.: Denver Zoo euthanizes 28-year-old endangered animal

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George the black rhino, who lived at the Denver Zoo since he was a baby, was euthanized last week. At 28, he was the ninth-oldest zoo rhino in the world. Given that, he suffered from a list of icky ailments, including diverticulitis, continued weight loss and... wait for it... chronic diarrhea.

"Poor George," says zoo spokeswoman Tiffany Barnhart. "He ultimately was found to have a ruptured spleen, and the spleen had a mass in it."

Yikes. Yet Barnhart remembers George as one of the zoo's friendliest rhinos, though maybe not the most artistic. Rhino Mshindi paints! And poses with Santa! And sits on command! But back to George. "He was a very sweet animal," Barnhart says. "He was just very affectionate to his keepers. He'd come running when he would see them." (Thankfully, there was a fence.)

George was born on January 11, 1983 at the Cincinnati Zoo. He came to Denver in 1984. In 1992, he fathered a calf named Tony, but sadly, Barnhart says Tony has since died.

George's death came after a night keeper found him struggling to stand. The keeper called several other keepers and zoo veterinarians, who decided to euthanize him. "It was definitely the right choice," Barnhart says. "He was suffering."

The situation is especially sad because black rhinos are critically endangered -- if not extinct outside of zoos. Earlier this month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a leading conservation group, found that West African black rhinos are extinct. However, the Western African variety is only one of several sub species of rhino and Barnhart says the zoo is unsure if George (and Tony) were in that category.

The zoo still has two other black rhinos, the aforementioned Mshindi, superstar, and a female named Shy Anne, who probably has talents, too, if that big oaf Santa ever bothered to ask. But whatever, she's not bitter or anything.

But George was clearly a favorite, given the number of people who responded on Facebook to a post about his death. "No!" wrote Deanna Sweeney. "I just saw him last week :( I guess he's in a better place." Others commented that George hadn't been looking so hot lately. "I feel lucky that I got to see him a few weeks ago. He did look like he was ready then," wrote Suzi Boyle. "Good job taking care of him zookeepers."

We agree.

More from our News archives: "Meet Bodhi, the Denver Zoo's first male elephant: Bring on the green weenie!"

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