60 pounds, 30 inches (27 kg, 76 cm): Not your average measurements for a newborn. But when you’re dealing with a baby Eastern Black Rhino, it’s fair to expect things to be a bit outsized. The 'little' rhino, a boy, was born August 26 at Lincoln Park Zoo in Illinois. He’s the first offspring for 8-year-old mom Kapuki and 27-year-old dad Maku and the first rhinoceros born at the zoo since 1989. Right now he’s growing behind the scenes, where animal care staff are keeping a close watch as the baby bonds with mom.
“Mother and baby are both doing wonderfully,” says Curator of Mammals Mark Kamhout. “The calf divides his time between nursing, following mom around, and napping, and that is exactly what a baby rhino should be doing.”
The new arrival is a welcome addition for a species that’s facing a conservation crisis in the wild. Black Rhinos are critically endangered and were nearly driven to extinction in the 1990s. Their wild population is currently estimated at 5,055 individuals. Although these creatures are protected, they are still killed illegally for their horns, which are used in folk medicines.
Rhinos are naturally solitary—and territorial—animals, coming together only for brief intervals to breed. Introductions need to be carefully timed to the female's estrus so that she will be receptive to the male’s approach. The pairing of Kapuki with Maku was recommended by the Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding and management strategy overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“This birth is cause for great celebration here at Lincoln Park Zoo and has been much anticipated,” says Kamhout. “The gestational period for rhinos is 15-16 months, and they have incredibly small windows for conception. Together with the zoo’s endocrinologists, we worked to pinpoint the exact window for Kapuki and Maku to get together for breeding. The whole zoo family is delighted at this successful outcome.”
So, how exactly do you pinpoint the right time? See and read more after the fold!
Zoo Endocrinologist and Davee Center Director Rachel Santymire, Ph.D., analyzed fecal samples collected by animal care staff to determine Kapuki’s reproductive cycle. This hormonal data, coupled with behavioral changes from Maku when Kapuki entered estrus, helped the zoo's animal care experts figure out the right time to introduce the two rhinos.
Now, after more than a year of gestation, we can see the adorable results of all this planning. Compliments to the scientists, the caregivers and everyone associated with the Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan, who made the initial breeding recommendation to pair Kapuki with her genetically valuable mate.
Lincoln Park Zoo is an active participant in rhino conservation and is home to three adult Eastern Black Rhinos. In addition to working closely with the SSP, Lincoln Park Zoo supports rhinos through field work in their native South Africa. The information zoo scientists gather on rhino hormone levels, parasites, and sleep patterns increases global understanding of how to manage and conserve the species. Click here to learn more about the zoo's role in rhino conservation.