A female rhinoceros has drowned at a zoo after a first date with a new male went tragically wrong.
Elena was “startled” by the arrival of a new male mate at the Wildlands park in the Dutch city of Emmen.
After a chase, the exhausted female slipped into a waterhole where she died, bosses at the attraction said on Friday.
The new bull, called Limpopo, had been placed into her enclosure as part of a proposed breeding programme at the attraction.
They had been cautiously introduced to each other by smell and sight while being kept in separate pens.
But things took a turn for the tragic when bosses allowed 19-year-old Limpopo into Elena’s area, which she shared with her sister Zahra.
“From that moment on it became restless,” a spokesperson for Wildlands said. “Both women were startled by the male and instead of putting him in his place together, they both ran off.
“As a result, Limpopo gave chase. He seemed particularly focused on Elena because she was the closest to him.”
After 15 minutes, she slipped into a shallow pool of water and landed on her side. She was unable to get up, the zoo said.
Caretakers – who intervened only when she went under – were unable to stop her drowning.
Zoo vet Job Stumpel said: “You want to jump over there and lift her head above water but you couldn’t. Rhinos are not only very dangerous, but they also weigh almost 2,000 kilos.”
Speaking to the Netherlands’ AD newspaper, he added: “We raced to it with a shovel and chased the male away with it, so we could get to the female, but it was too late.”
The zoo said such an introduction “often requires intervention, but never before has one been fatal”.
Yet questions may be asked about the scheme after it was admitted that Limpopo had been moved from a German zoo six years earlier because he “didn’t treat the female there properly”.
The southern white rhino is listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, with only 10,080 animals in existence.
But breeding them can be difficult, as a female only gives birth to a calf once every three to four years, after a 16-month pregnancy.