Just before midnight on 13 May 2022, a male Indian rhino was born at Basel Zoo. Mother Quetta (28) and little Tarun are both in good health and spirits. Tarun is Quetta’s fifth calf, and the 36th Indian rhino to be born at the zoo. Basel Zoo runs the international studbook for Indian rhinos, coordinates the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) and is also a strategic partner of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) supporting various species conservation projects.
After a gestation period of 16 months, or 498 days to be exact, Quetta gave birth to a male calf at Basel Zoo on 13 May 2022 at 11.35 p.m. The calf’s father is Jaffna. Both mother and calf are doing well. To give Quetta some peace and quiet after the birth, the rhinocerous house has been closed to the public until now. It is now open to visitors again, but there may be some times where it is closed off out of consideration for the mother and calf.
A day in the life of Tarun
Quetta is an experienced mother. Tarun is her fifth calf. And this was evident with how smoothly the birth went: the calf could be seen feeding multiple times the day after he was born and is developing well. He is gaining around two kilograms per day. At the moment, he is only feeding on his mother’s milk, but later this will be supplemented with solid food. The young calf will feed on his mother’s milk for around 12 months. As is usual for Indian rhinos, the day revolves around Tarun, with his mother going at his pace. Tarun was shy and reserved for the first few days. It therefore took a little time before he started venturing around the stall, all while being followed closely by his mother. He now feels comfortable roaming freely between the different stalls. Next, Tarun has to learn to start going outside and then coming back in the evening. When he reaches two to four months old, Tarun will be introduced into the rhino group. Until then, mother and calf will just stay with each other.
66 years of breeding rhinos at Basel Zoo
Basel Zoo has a long history of breeding rhinos and has a great deal of expertise in this field. Basel Zoo’s first Indian rhino was born in 1956. Rudra, who died in 1987, was the first male Indian rhino in the world to have been born in a zoo. With Tarun, Basel Zoo has now recorded its 36th Indian rhino birth. Basel Zoo has run the international studbook for Indian rhinos since 1972 and has coordinated the European Endangered Species Programme, also known as the EEP (the ex-situ programme of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria EAZA) since 1990. The aim of the EEP is to make sure that the number of related animals of each individual in the population is as balanced as possible.
Basel Zoo is currently home to five rhinos: Quetta (28) and Tarun, his father Jaffna (28), his brother Orys (5), and Shakti (5), who came to the zoo from Plzeň Zoo (Czech Republic) in 2019.
A strategic partner of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF)
Indian rhinos can be found in the open grasslands and the wetlands of Nepal and India. Their natural habitat is limited to national parks. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies Indian rhinos as endangered, just like the other species of rhino that are found in Africa (white and black rhinos) and Asia (Java and Sumatran rhinos). They are endangered due to a loss of habitat and illegal poaching. Basel Zoo has therefore been supporting the project ‘Indian Rhino Vision 2020’ since 2005. The first phase of the project aimed to better protect the Indian rhinos in the Indian state of Assam and to increase their population to 3000 individuals by the end of 2020. This initiative was successful, and now their population stands at around 4000. To ensure the population can continue to thrive, the IRF is now working on the next phase of the project.
A similar project was launched in Sumatra in 2018 called the ‘Sumatran Rhino Survival Alliance’. Due to its population’s rapid decline through poaching, the Sumatran rhino is the most endangered species of rhino in the world. Sumatra and Borneo are now home to fewer than 80 of these animals. In partnership with the IRF, Basel Zoo has been supporting targeted breeding in Sumatra since 2017. The Indonesian government’s aim is to use a few individuals to build a sufficiently large starting population to one day be able to release individual animals from this population into the wild. In an ideal scenario, this is the same aim as for zoo populations. The coordinated breeding organised as part of the EEP means that, when necessary, animals can be released into the wild and reintroduced back into their natural habitat.
Image credits: Photo: Basel Zoo www.zoobasel.ch