Shoo, fly! Our girl Princess is looking like true royalty in her custom face mask made just to ward off those pesky bugs.
rhino wearing allergy mask
Credit: Courtesy of Utah's Hogle Zoo

While face coverings are definitely not necessary to protect our furry friends from COVID-19, certain masks can still help keep animals healthy. Just ask Princess, the adorable 'geriatric' rhino who's now living her best life at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City thanks to a set of new eye masks meant to keep the flies away. 

Her majesty Princess—a senior white rhino who can be found in the African savannah when in the wild—struggles with eye allergies and is especially irritated by flies buzzing around her head. In 2018, zookeepers sought out special fly masks similar to the ones horses wear to cover Princess's face and protect her from pesky pests. (Don't worry, she can still see through the mesh.) And according to a recent post on the zoo's Facebook page, the masks are working wonders!

The zoo's elephant and rhino handler Lauren LeCoque explained the process of easing Princess into her crown in a follow-up video. She says zoo staff uses positive reinforcement (yep, the same kind we use to train dogs and cats in our own homes) to get her used to wearing the mask and ensure she's comfortable with enough with it to keep it on and still enjoy regular activities. "If [the animals] don't want to participate, they don't have to," LeCoque says. "So it works that we have a great relationship with them." 

The main motivator for getting Princess to wear her sporty new eyewear? Lots and lots of treats. Check out Princess enjoying some delish-looking sliced apple snacks while LeCogue puts the mask on her. She says it typically goes on first thing in the morning (during breakfast, obvs) and comes off just before bedtime.

Apparently it took a few prototypes to be sure Princess's new mask would fit her head. Her newest mask was specially made and donated by Horsewear, a company who (you guessed it) makes fly masks for horses. The rhino version is similar to the more recognizable horse version but it fits her big ol' noggin and has an extra hole for her horn. 

Though the masks are effective in combating her allergies, zookeepers say Princess can be pretty rough on them since she has such a propensity for rolling in the mud and rubbing up against logs. And with temps in triple digits this summer, who can blame her for scratching those itches and cooling off in a puddle or two?! 

Thankfully, this royal gal's knight in shining armor appeared last week when the animal lovers at Horseware donated four new custom-made masks for Princess to wear this summer. 

It seems the staff at Hogle Zoo are extremely appreciative of the new coverings for their favorite rhino, and it's safe to say Princess and her eyes are grateful for the protection, too.