FAMOUS RHINOS - RHINOCEROS OF VERSAILLES

The Rhinoceros of Versailles, never given any other name, was an Indian Rhino that was transported all the way from Calcutta (now Kolkata) in West Bengal to King Louis XV in France in 1769. The rhino was a gift from the French Governor of Chandernagor, M Chevalier. Louis XV was known for his passion for exotic animals, which likely inspired the governor’s unusual choice of gift.

After six months on board a ship, the rhino arrived in Lorient, Brittany, in June of 1770. However, it had to be kept there for several weeks while a custom-built vehicle was constructed to fetch him and transport him to the Palace of Versailles. This was a long and uncomfortable trip for the massive creature, particularly after the arduous boat journey lasting many months. When it arrived, it was put straight into a small pen at the Royal Ménagerie of Versailles.

For some 22 years, the Rhino of Versailles was on display to the public. Since rhinos are found naturally only in Asia and Africa, it was quite a spectacle to the French locals. At this time, people were becoming increasingly educated in and aware of the science of animals. Sadly, on 23 September 1793, the rhino became victim to the crazed hackings of a revolutionary and his sabre. He was killed savagely.

The skin and skeleton of the magnificent beast was preserved. The body was dissected and stuffed by taxidermists, Jean-Claude Mertrud and Félix Vicq d'Azyr. The skin needed to be varnished and stretched over a huge mannequin. Such a task had never been performed on this massive scale before. Both the stuffed rhino and its skeleton are on display at the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

Upon her arrival in Rotterdam on 22 July 1741, she disembarked the ship and went straight into a life of exhibition;delighting the public who witnessed one of these prehensile animals in person for the first time.

When van der Meer saw how successful these exhibitions were, he soon left his job as captain of the ship to tour Europe with Clara.

He started to tour in 1746 and continued this life of travel for the next 17 years. A specialised container needed to be built to accommodate Clara comfortably during her travels. Her skin was nourished with fish oil, which kept it moist.

Interestingly, when the Rhinoceros of Versailles was restored in 1992, experts discovered that the horn actually belonged to a Black Rhino (an African rhino species that is far larger than its Indian counterpart). It was only then replaced with a moulded horn from an old Indian Rhino so that its size is more accurate.

 

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