Within 24 hours of the birth of an endangered Grevy’s zebra foal on St. Patrick’s Day, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo welcomed another offspring: a southern White Rhinoceros. The rhino calf was born in the early morning hours on Thursday, March 18, to first-time mother “Kidogo” in the African rhino boma (barn) which houses the animals overnight. The birth marks the first southern white rhino calf in the Zoo’s history, and the second birth in two days of animals sharing a habitat (southern white rhinos and Grevy’s zebra).
The Zoo’s white rhinos are members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Southern White Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan (SSP). “This birth will contribute to the conservation efforts of this species in North America, and specifically the SSP, adding valuable genetics to the program from an imported animal new to the population,” noted Dr. Larry Killmar, the Zoo’s director of collections.
According to the SSP’s population analysis in June 2009, there were a total of 153 southern white rhinos among 47 AZA-accredited institutions in North America. "The white rhino population has been managed as an SSP since 1984, and every birth is very significant," noted Adam Eyres,” white rhino SSP coordinator. "Fewer than 10 AZA institutions are currently producing calves, so this is great news for the white rhino population."
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is currently home to a herd of five white rhinos: three adult females who came to the Zoo from the Phinda Reserve in Africa, one adult male and the new male offspring. As a species that lives in a herd, the Zoo’s mother rhino and calf will be gradually introduced to the remainder of the rhinos and the four Grevy’s zebra in the near term.
Native to eastern and southern Africa, the southern white rhinoceros is classified as “near threatened.” The white rhino is thought to be named after an English misinterpretation of the Afrikaans word, “weit,” meaning wide. The land grazing mammals have unique square-lipped mouths that allow them to easily eat wide amounts of the grasses found throughout the open savannahs. The white rhinoceros has two horns at the end of its muzzle, the most prominent in the front. Both horns are made out of keratin, the same material found in human hair and nails. Unlike the Indian rhino, white rhinos use their horns as a defense mechanism. Females use their horn to protect their young while males use them to battle each other. Adult white rhinos can reach weights of about 5,000 pounds, with most calves estimated to weigh between 100-140 pounds.
The white rhino birth marks the second species of rhino born at the Zoo in the last year. An endangered Indian rhinoceros (also known as the great one-horned rhinoceros) was born July 7, 2009, in the Asian Gardens habitat area at the Zoo.
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo participates in nearly 40 Species Survival Plans (SSPs), cooperative breeding and conservation programs managed by AZA to carefully maintain healthy, self-sustaining captive populations.