Taronga Wild Rhinos – Sydney’s Painted Rhino Exhibit

Colourful rhino sculptures started appearing all around Sydney one day. There were Opera house rhinos, Circular Quay rhinos, Botanic Garden rhinos. Some were brightly coloured and dazzling geometric designs, others were painted as robots, some were covered in gold, and others were calming beach landscapes.

It was an art exhibition that opened up on 2nd February, 2014, creeping into the public spaces of the city. Each one designed by a different artist, they were part of the Taronga Wild Rhinos, an art initiative headed by Taronga Zoo. And for people lucky enough to see them, it was a thrill to discover the different styles from the artists.

What are the Taronga Wild Rhinos?

The public art project had two aims. The first was to raise awareness for the threat of extinction to the world’s rhino population. The second was to raise funds for the zoo’s breeding program.


129 rhinos made their way into Sydney, as well as regional NSW – The Blue Mountains, The Central West, and Dubbo. A call was made in 2013 for artists and schools to submit ideas for the rhinos, and a group of amateur and professional artists were all selected to take part.


From the February to April they loitered on streets around the CBD, attracting photos, selfies and hugs from curious locals.

The endangered black rhinos

The black rhino is the smaller of the two African rhino species (the other being the white rhino), and are distinguished by the hooked upper lip, as compared to the broad lip of the white rhino. They have two horns, and sometimes may even have a small third horn.


Since 1960, the population of black rhinos has been hunted, killing a stunning 98% of the entire population, bring the total numbers to a critical low point of 2500 left in the wild. Conservation efforts in Africa and around the world (including Taronga Zoo’s initiative) have helped to increase the population, and are now around 5000.


Despite these efforts, the black rhino is still in critical danger, and further conservation efforts are needed to revive populations of this beautiful animal.

Who are the artists behind the Sydney Rhinos?

Ken Done’s rhinos: Al and Golden Baby

One of Australia’s most celebrated modern artists lent his paintbrush to a pair of rhinos, which were located at The Rocks. The larger is named ‘Al’, after Albrecht Dürer, a German artist whose 1515 anatomical woodcut of a rhino served as an inspiration.

The larger rhino is Al, number 34. It is a night time scene of Sydney, with various icons of the harbour set against a black background. The face is the Opera House, cleverly incorporating the ears and horns into the sails of the Opera House. On the side, the end of the word ‘Rhino’ is scrawled over with a defiant NO, and written underneath “No rhinos will survive unless we look after them“.

The smaller rhino, number 33, is Golden Baby.

Camilla Franks’ rhino: Pacha

Rhino number 7, named ‘Pacha’, is the creation of noted Australian fashion icon and dress designer. Her rhino is a detailed, beautiful, colourful design of tassels, zebra print, zig-zags, motifs and feathers, just like her clothing rage.

Pacha lived on King Street in the Sydney CBD.

Kevin Connor and Paul Connor’s rhino: People takeover the wild rhino

The 2005 winner of the Dobell prize for drawing, Kevin Connor contributed a gorgeous black and white rhino scrawled with detailed black marker designs, including small faces. It was a collaboration with Paul Connor, Underneath the rhino, it’s subtle, but the shadow of a dancing man completes the artwork.

Kevin Connor’s rhino had a beautiful spot just outside the Opera House, overlooking the Harbour Bridge.

Jane Gillings’ rhino: Put a lid on it

Jane Gillings is a Sydney sculptor who uses found objects, often plastic waste, to create her artwork. Number 43 is her rhino, Put a lid on it, and it’s unmistakably hers. Hundreds of plastic lids and caps have been screwed onto the rhino body to create a joyfully colourful mosaic of circles, a lovely piece, considering it’s made of waste materials.

Put a lid on it was living in the green spaces of the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Numskull’s rhino: Keratin collectibles

Over at Circular Quay (Jetty 6) was the rhino of Elliott Routledge, AKA Numskull. A street artist known for his use of smiley faces, blocks of colour and bold text – his bold, abstract public art style is showcased on his rhino, number 48, named Keratin Collectibles. Strips of bold colour criss-cross Keratin Collectibles, for a very modern art style.

Schools that contributed to the Taronga Wild Rhinos

Rhinos 66 to 129 were created by schools all across NSW, by the students. There was a prize awarded to the best rhino from all of the schools, which was judged by staff and volunteers from Taronga Zoo. The winner would be taken out and displayed in public, whilst the other schools would be able to keep their hard work on site.

See below for the full list of contributing schools.

Bonnel’s Bay Public School: Bob

The grand prize went to Bonnel’s Bay Public School for their rhino, Bob. The school was awarded $1000 prize money for their hard work, and Bob was allowed to take part in the public display trail, alongside the professional artists. After his tour, he returned to the school for retirement.

Bob was painted with a striking scene of an African sunset of reds and yellows, with a pair of rhinos silhouetted against it.

A closer look at the wildlife

Here we have the Eastern rainbow rhino. One of the rarest of rhino species; the eastern rainbow is only found on Australia’s east coast, where the sunny weather and ready availability to art supplies provides excellent spotting opportunities.


The feet are locked on a plinth, an evolutionary trait differentiating this rhino from its relatives. This can tend to inhibit mating rituals, so the rhinos must be as conspicuous as possible to gain public attention. 


The males and females compete for the attention of the resident human population by displaying different colours and patterns. This is nature at its most exciting. A human stops, and clicks a photo with his pocket device. The job complete; the eastern rainbow rhino waits for his next human.


Auction of the Sydney art rhinos

The rhinos finally went under the hammer on the 14th of May at the Star casino in Sydney, and drew a large crowd of enthusiastic bidders, who bought up all of the rhinos.

The total raised was a wonderful $460,000 for the Taronga Wild Rhinos project, an average of $3680 per rhino. The money was put towards rhino conservation, while the Wild Rhinos themselves all found new homes.


Full list of Taronga Wild Rhinos, and their artists


1 – Adair Imrie: Geometry and the Rhino
2 – Alejandra Diaz: Migaloo
3 – Anders Alexander: Dazzle
4 – Ant Larcombe, Caroline Larcombe and Will Larcombe Solomon: Girl Wandaa
5 – Ant Larcombe, Caroline Larcombe and Will Larcombe Solomon: Rhinoman
6 – ART-C: Target Practice
7 – Ashley Taylor: Artie
8 – Beastman: Elemental Awareness
9 – Benitta Harding: Elvis the Rockin’ Rhino
10 – Benitta Harding: Pamela
11 – Bridge Stehli: Idol
12 – Cam Wall: Home and Away
13 – Cam Wall: SHELLTER
14 – CAMILLA and Alison See: Pacha
15 – Channel Seven Sunrise Crew: Sunrise: Wake up with friends
16 – Chris Anderson: Giving light to Rhinos
17 – Chris Anderson: Rhino in the rain
18 – Chris Anderson: The Community Square Rhino
19 – Creature Creature: Terra
20 – Gary Deirmendjian: Closer to Home…
21 – Gaye Chapman: Dürer’s Rhinoceros: After Dali
22 – Georgia Perry: Safari Party
23 – Gillie and Marc Schattner: We Are One
24 – Gloria Torres: Fragility
25 – Hans Hulsbosch: Camouflagee
26 – Jane Gillings: Put A Lid On It
27 – Jane Tuinstra: ElectroRhino
28 – Jessie Hughes: The Wild Tribe
29 – Jodee Knowles: Look into my Eyes
30 – Joel Gregory Cameron: R-BOT 3000 (Future?)
31 – Joel Gregory Cameron: R-BOT 4000
32 – Karen Binks/Arianne Wolodarsky: Wild and Free
33 – Ken Done: Golden Baby
34 – Ken Done: Rhino Survival
35 – Keri Le Page: Flower Power
36 – Kevin Connor and Paul Connor: People takeover the Wild Rhino
37 – Kyle Pearson: The Underneath
38 – Kylie Bowles: Party Rhino
39 – Kylie Bowles: Raging Rhino
40 – Lara Porter: Unicorn Horn
41 – Lynley Kirkness: All Patched Up
42 – Maree Hand/Lara Johnson: Time To
43 – Marty Routledge: Heavy Weight
44 – Matthew McLarty: The Nature of Industriousness
45 – Meredith Besseling and the Kennards Hire Team: The Hatching
46 – Monique Dery- Boyer: What’s Your Favourite
47 – Mr & Mrs Brown: Sentient Being
48 – Numskull: Keratin Collectibles
49 – Penny Lovelock: Beauty and Hope
50 – Peter Kingston: Little Hamlet
51 – Peter Williams: Gundabooka
52 – Rachel Chu: Porcelain Rhino
53 – Rain Hart: Chupa Chup
54 – Richard Allen: Rhinoceros Orchardos
55 – Samantha Chin: My Rhino’s Keeper
56 – Saretta Fielding: Ngeyn Malang-We together: Awabakal
57 – Sasha Heath – Hellotomato: The Urban Jungle
58 – Shannon Tee: Handle With Care
59 – Shaun Gilchrist: Galactic Rhino
60 – Stefi Boese: Mit dem Kopf durch die Wand – Strong Head
61 – Steve Monk: Blue Green Scene
62 – Taronga Design: For the Wild Rhinoss
63 – Wayne Krause: Spirit in the Land
64 – Whybin TBWA: Camo Rhino
65 – Whybin TBWA: Rhino Infographics


66 – Anson Street Public School: Rosie
67 – Ascham Junior School: Rhonda
68 – Barellan Central School: Crash
69 – Baulkham Hills High School – Support Unit: Dazzle aka Noname
70 – Bilgola Plateau Public School: Banzi
71 – Birrong Boys High School: Roger
72 – Bonnells Bay Public School: Bob
73 – Booligal Public School: Booligal Beast
74 – Caringbah North Public School: Auggie
75 – Central Coast Grammar School: Rocky the Rhino
76 – Condell Park Public School: Condell Park
77 – Coonamble Public School: Maliyaa (means friend in Gamilaroi)
78 – Crestwood High School – Support Unit: Rhianna
79 – Curl Curl North Public School: Curly
80 – Dora Creek Public School: A Rumble In Suburban Jungle
81 – Dubbo Public School: Sherbert
82 – Dubbo South Public School: Dubbo South
83 – Fisher Rd Special School working with Barrenjoey High School: Reggie
84 – Goolma Public School: Mjumbe
85 – Guildford West Public School: Rocky
86 – Gum Flat Public School: Robot Rhinos – no way as good as the real thi- ng!
87 – Hillsborough Public School: Charge
88 – Holy Family Catholic Primary School: Rocco
89 – Jindabyne Central School: Year 8 Smokescreen
90 – Jindabyne Central School (2): Line-oceros
91 – Jindabyne Central School (3): 5 Minutes To Midnight
92 – Jindabyne Central School (4): Look At Me: Help Me
93 – Jindabyne Central School (5): You Can’t Get Me
94 – Lincoln School: Egor Barang
95 – Mosman Preparatory School: Sinegugu
96 – Mosman Public School: Olive Muriel Pink
97 – Mount Terry Public School: Melvin
98 – New Lambton South Public School: New Lambton South
99 – Newport Public School: Newport
100 – Nillo Infants School: Raj
101 – North Narrabeen Public School: Rafiki
102 – Northmead Creative & Performing Arts High School: Roy
103 – Orana Heights Public School: Folami Rhinomight
104 – Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Primary: Hans
105 – Punchbowl Public School: Punchbowl
106 – Queenwood Junior School: ROLO (Rhinos only live once)
107 – Robert Townson High School: Aalije
108 – Rockley Public School: Rockley Rhino (R.R)
109 – Rollands Plains Upper Public School: Rolland
110 – Rozelle Public School: Anmal
111 – Rutherford Public School: Ras – (Afrikaans for Breed)
112 – Santa Sabina Junior School: Santa Sabina
113 – Sefton High School: Reality Ron
114 – Sylvania Heights Public School: Sylvanna
115 – St Alyosius Cronulla: Hope
116 – St Marys Catholic Primary: Mary
117 – St Pius X Catholic Primary School: Ikechi – African for ‘God’s strength’
118 – St Therese Catholic School: Rosie the Rhino
119 – Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College – Berkley Vale Campus: Hope
120 – Wahroonga Public School: Bokamosa
121 – Wenona Junior School: Rionejia (Rio for short)
122 – Willans Hill Special School: Prince George
123 – Wirreanda Public School (1): Wirreanda 1
124 – Wirreanda Public School (2): Wirreanda 2
125 – Wirreanda Public School (3): Wirreanda 3
126 – Wirreanda Public School (4): Wirreanda 4
127 – Wongarbon Public School: Rex
128 – York Public School: Bubba
129 – Zig Zag Public School: Ziggle Zaggle 


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