Centuries ago, rhinoceroses could only be found in their natural habitats throughout Africa and Asia. As shy animals, they were seldom seen even within their natural homes.

As such, they piqued a huge amount of interest by those fascinated by their mystery and, no doubt, their sheer size and power. Rhinos have a prehensile look about them, which has led to many myths and fables about these gentle giants.

So, it is no wonder then that, when a rhino like Abada was transported to Europe during the 16th century, she sparked a huge amount of interest, and was a prime attraction.

A street sign for Calle de la Abada, Madrid. Photo by Alfredo Ruiz de Luna.

Sebastian I was succeeded by King Henry I in 1578, and Abada was then automatically the property of this new king. However, when he died in 1580, Spanish king Philip II claimed the Portuguese throne in an attempt to unite the Spanish and Portuguese powers. He transferred Abada to the menagerie of Casa de Campo, situated near to Madrid, in 1580 and then to the menagerie of El Escorial three years later. During this second transfer, Abada was startled by cold water being thrown on her with the intention of keeping her cool. She broke away and knocked down many of the attendants handling her. This was just one of several violent or difficult reactions that she had to being handled.

In El Escorial, she was put on display for the public to see. She was also exhibited to royal visitors, who were, undoubtedly, impressed by her sheer size.

However, Abada was difficult to manoeuvre and startled easily. She would react quickly and, because of her sheer size, could do an enormous injury to those around her. As a result, her attendants decided to blind her in the hopes that it would calm her down. Such tragedies were, unfortunately, part of an era that did not have an accurate understanding of wild animals. In fact, some of those spectators that saw Abada initially believed her to be a unicorn, since the legends of these mythical animals were all that they had as context.

While there are some doubts, it seems that Abada died in 1588, since there is simply no record of her existence after 1587. She lived a life of frustration, but was possibly an integral part of raising awareness about the magnificent wildlife around the world and the importance of conserving it.