Cumberland, OH –The Wilds’ southern white rhinoceros herd has grown with the exciting arrival of a newborn calf!
The male calf was born during the early morning hours of Thursday, November 17, 2022, to mother, Kali. The Animal Management team notes that Kali and her little one are both doing well. The calf, who is currently unnamed, is nursing alongside his mother and appears to be strong and spunky. The Animal Management team regularly observes him hopping in front of Kali on his “mushroom”-like feet (that he’ll soon grow into), all the while trying to get his patient mother’s attention with playful headbutts as she rests between nursing sessions. Kali and her calf will continue to bond in a maternity stall located in the facility’s large rhino barn and then begin introductions with other members of the herd in the next few weeks.
Kali, who was born at The Wilds in 2013, is an experienced mom. This little one is Kali’s second calf and the eighth calf that father, Kengele, has sired. Kengele was born at the San Diego Safari Park in 1998 and has been living at The Wilds since 2012.
The conservation center is notable for many reasons, mainly because it is the only facility outside of Africa with rhinos born five generations removed from their wild-born ancestors. This most recent calf is the 29th white rhino born at The Wilds throughout its history. This most recent calf now marks the ninth fifth-generation calf born at the facility, which is a testament to the success of The Wilds’ rhino program.
The pairings of Kali and Kengele was recommended through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP). The SSP program is designed to maintain a sustainable population and genetic diversity of threatened and endangered species in human care. The recent birth brings the total number of rhinos in The Wilds’ southern white rhino herd to 19 (seven males and 12 females). The Wilds has also welcomed the births of nine Asian one-horned rhinos since 2005. The Wilds is home to five greater one-horned rhinos and is one of only 19 AZA-accredited facilities in North America to care for this species.
“Each new rhino birth is a cause for celebration, especially as these species continue to face many challenges in their native ranges. We are proud of our successful breeding program while understanding there’s still much work to be done to help support rhino conservation. We remain dedicated to providing expertise and leadership, and collaborating with our conservation community colleagues and inspiring our guests to take action to further the positive collective impacts on these species’ future,” said Dr. Joe Smith, Vice President of The Wilds.
The white rhino population had dwindled to an estimated 50 to 200 individuals at the beginning of the 20th century. However, through conservation efforts, the population of white rhinos in their native range in Africa has rebounded to about 20,400 animals. Even with increased numbers, the species remains classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). All five remaining rhino species in Africa and Asia (white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros, greater one-horned rhinoceros, Javan rhinoceros, and Sumatran rhinoceros) are killed by poachers. Poachers sell rhino horn for ornamental or traditional medicinal purposes even though its use has no scientifically proven health benefits. The horns are made of keratin—the same substance that makes up fingernails and hair. The International Rhino Foundation estimates that one rhino is killed every 10 hours for its horn.
White rhino calves are born after a gestation of 16 months and they can grow to be 5,000 pounds and 6 feet tall at their shoulder. Their habitats typically consist of plains or woodlands, interspersed with grassy openings. Through reintroduction efforts, their native range has been established in southern and eastern African countries.
To further protect the future of rhinos, The Wilds and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium have provided more than $228,000 over the last five years to support conservation projects benefiting rhinos in their native ranges. The Columbus Zoo and The Wilds currently support three rhino field projects through the International Rhino Foundation, National Trust for Nature Conservation, and Akagera National Park (Akagera Management Company). The International Rhino Foundation’s project supports law enforcement, translocations, and community development to benefit the greater one-horned rhino in India. The National Trust for Nature Conservation’s project supports the conservation of the greater one-horned rhino through rhino monitoring, veterinary support, and a community awareness program in Chitwan National Park. Additionally, the Akagera National Park project supports a reintroduction effort, including monitoring as well as providing uniforms and rations for rhino patrol units, to help the eastern black rhinos and recently introduced southern white rhinos in Akagera National Park in Rwanda. The Columbus Zoo is also active in the AZA's Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program for black rhinos.
The Wilds also serves another important role as the operations base of an initiative launched in 2021. The Wilds has teamed up with the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and four other partner research facilities to form the American Institute of Rhinoceros Science (AIRS)—a model for saving species with science ex situ (which means off site or outside natural habitat).
The AIRS operations is located at The Wilds and include an operations manager and an intern to collect data. This initiative was made possible by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
The team, which also includes collaborators from other partners, focuses on the high priority research needs of rhinos in zoos that the AZA Rhinoceros Research Council identified in 2019. These priorities are:
1) physical fitness and its relation to health
2) iron storage in browsing rhinos
3) reproductive success
4) behavioral and environmental factors that maximize rhino well-being
Over three years, the scientists will conduct research within each pillar on overlapping subjects and examine the effect across all pillars. Data collected from all studies will be compiled in a centralized database accessible to all AIRS members. Ultimately, AIRS will provide affordable and feasible management recommendations to veterinarians and animal care staff at the 74 AZA-accredited facilities caring for rhinos.
Guests who visit The Wilds may have an opportunity to see the new calf during either a Winter at The Wilds Tour, presented by AEP Ohio (available daily from now through April), or the Rhino Experience (available most Thursdays-Sundays until February 26, 2023). Pricing varies depending on the tour. Advance reservations are required. For more information about The Wilds’ conservation initiatives, educational offerings, how to become a member, or to schedule a tour, please visit TheWilds.org and follow The Wilds’ social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok,