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Giant balloon rhinocerous puts focus on wildlife poaching

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by August 17, 2016 General

A Guelph balloon artist is creating a life-sized rhinoceros, but it’s not all fun and games.

Sean Rooney, known as the Balloon Maestro, is creating the balloon sculpture in Old Quebec Street mall in downtown Guelph to raise awareness of the plight of the animals in Africa.

“The project is kind of a beautiful boomerang effect. What happened was, years ago, when I was in my nascent balloon twisting career, I’d noticed that balloon animals becoming extinct was something that children would process. So I had done a few projects where I’d done an animal that was endanger of extinction and let it go extinct, or I’d done balloon dinosaurs that were guaranteed to go extinct. So it was a little bit of a motif in my work,” Rooney said.

“This year, someone came back to me and said, we’re trying to create an anti-extinction project for rhinos doing giant balloons, would you like to participate? And I said, of course.”

Global artists taking part

The project is part of the Balloon Rhino Project, which is asking balloon artists around the globe to raise money and awareness to support the Pilanesberg Rhinos, a wildlife trust in South Africa.

Balloon Rhino Project

One artist created a balloon rhino. A YouTube video shows the sculpture through various phases as it deflates until it is empty balloons on the ground. (YouTube)

The project’s website shows balloon artists from Japan, Singapore, the United States, Scotland, Spain and Australia are taking part. There is also a video showing one installation as it deflates.

“This will be the first ever global fundraising effort undertaken by the balloon industry,” the project’s website says.

The Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust is located in Pilanesberg National Park and works to protect endangered rhinoceros from poachers who want to obtain the animal’s horn. The trust says about 10 rhinos are poached each year and so far this year, five have been poached and three others were badly injured.

Sculpture will be popped

Rooney is constructing the sculpture in the centre of Old Quebec Street mall.

On Tuesday morning when CBC Radio’s Andrea Bellemare visited the site, Rooney had the animal’s torso completed. It is made of silver balloons, including balloons inside the sculpture for support. 

Sean Rooney balloon rhino torso

Guelph balloon artist Sean Rooney has been working on the rhinoceros since Monday. He plans to have it completed by Thursday night and will tweak it Friday. It will be on display on the weekend before it is popped and destroyed on Monday. (Andrea Bellemare/CBC News)

Rooney blows up all the balloons.

He said it was “amazing space to do an installation” because of the high ceilings and natural light.

Some people have stopped to ask what they’re up to and find out more about the project.

Rooney said he is basing his design on Albrecht Dürer’s model of a rhino.

“It’s actually one of the most important works of art in history in the sense that it’s a wood cutting engraving print. It’s the first commercially available piece of art,” Rooney said.

Sean Rooney balloon rhino

Sean Rooney of Guelph looks down the centre of the torso of his balloon rhino. (Andrea Bellemare/CBC News)

The balloon animal will be 2.5 metres high and 4.5 metres long. He started work on Monday and will put in 12-hour days until it is completed late Thursday.

And after all that work, it will be destroyed on Monday.

“Part of the general theme of it is making the balloon rhinoceros, [then] letting it kind of fade away as a poignant visual,” he said. “I’m maybe thinking of doing something a little more dramatic and actually having a scene where the rhinoceros is popped all except for the horn.”

Rooney wants to film the destruction of his balloon rhino to show “human stupidity and cruelty in a way that could potentially go viral and bring some attention to this issue.”

Listen to his interview with CBC Radio’s Andrea Bellemare Wednesday morning in Old Quebec Street:

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