After it died a natural death at the Milwaukee County Zoo in 1983, the 3,200-pound rare white rhinoceros — or more correctly, the endangered wide-lipped rhino — was buried near Picnic Point for nearly two decades before moving to its permanent home in the UW Zoological Museum’s skeletal collections. UW scientists first unearthed the rhino in 1995 only to find that the decomposing forces of nature were taking longer than expected. It was reburied and exhumed in 2002.
Transporting the late great rhino from Milwaukee to Madison proved to be one wild ride. When curator Emeritus Frank Iwen received the call from the Milwaukee Zoo, he consulted fellow curator John Dallman to troubleshoot a solution. They called Schmidt’s Auto in Madison to pick up the unusual cargo on a flatbed truck. On the return trip from Milwaukee, the tarp covering the massive animal blew loose, and much gawking ensued among passing cars. Schmidt’s held the carcass in its compound overnight and the next morning an entourage led by a campus police squad car arrived at Picnic Point, where a large pit was waiting. Before the rhino was buried, its head was surgically removed to protect the horn. Composed of compacted hair, the valuable horn would eventually be destroyed if buried with the other remains. During the process, several runners passing by recalculated their route when warned there might be another rhino on the loose.
Old Whitey was the last of several creatures, including a giraffe and an elephant, buried near Picnic Point because they were too large for the museum’s colony of flesh-eating beetles. The rhino’s remains are now cataloged as part of the UW Zoological Museum’s osteological collection.