SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – The San Diego Zoo Monday announced the arrival of a southern white rhino calf at the zoo’s Safari Park, the first of the species to be born through artificial insemination in North America.
The healthy male calf was born on Sunday. Animal care staff helped his mother, Victoria, conceive in March 2018 through hormone-induced ovulation and artificial insemination, which has seldom been successful for southern white rhinos.
Victoria and her calf are currently bonding well in a secluded nursing area of the Safari Park, zoo officials said. The calf is the 99th southern white rhino born at the Safari Park.
“All of us at San Diego Zoo Global are elated with the arrival of this special rhino calf,” said Barbara Durrant, the zoo’s director of reproductive sciences. “We are so pleased Victoria and the calf are doing well. She is very attentive to her baby, and the calf is up and walking, and nursing frequently.”
In addition to the historical significance of the calf’s conception, its birth also represents a step toward the zoo’s longer-term goal of recovering the northern white rhino, a distant relative of the southern white rhino. Currently, only two northern white rhinos still exist on the planet and both are female.
Zoo officials aim to use stem cells and preserved northern white rhino cells to birth a northern white rhino calf within 10-20 years. The zoo’s southern white rhinos would serve as surrogates for the northern white rhino embryos through artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization or an embryo transfer.
If the plan proves successful, researchers could attempt similar assisted reproduction techniques with the critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinos.
Victoria and the calf are expected to remain secluded indefinitely to allow them to bond before the calf is introduced to the other rhinos at the Safari Park’s Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center, according to zoo officials.
The Safari Park is expecting a second southern white rhino birth in September or October. The zoo announced that calf’s conception through artificial insemination last September.
The San Diego Zoo sent out the following information on an email announcing the historic birth:
As part of our family, we wanted you to be the first to know that Victoria, a southern white rhino who lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, gave birth to her calf just before 6 p.m. last night!
He is the 186th rhino born at the Safari Park, and the first southern white rhino born by artificial insemination in North America. This is a groundbreaking milestone in our cutting-edge program to save these gentle giants from extinction.
After 16 months of gestation, Victoria’s labor only lasted about 30 minutes. Keepers prepared a maternity area for mom and baby, cushioned by hay, and stood alongside veterinarians to welcome the new arrival into the San Diego Zoo Global family. Shortly after getting used to his wobbly little legs, he made his way over to Victoria and started nursing. Weighing around 125 pounds at birth, the calf will continue nursing around the clock and gain up to 25 pounds per week for the first year!
Decades of poaching have taken their toll on rhinos worldwide, but none has suffered worse than the northern white rhino. With only 2 left on the entire planet, we’re working with partners around the globe to save them before it’s too late.
Through generous support from friends like you, we built the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center. At this state-of-the-art sanctuary, we’re developing the cutting-edge science needed to save these magnificent animals. And this big bundle of joy brings us one step closer to saving his northern white rhino cousins through our one-of-kind surrogacy program.
Over the next few days, weeks, and months, mom and baby will continue to bond, and Victoria will get some much-needed rest! You can follow their journey from wherever you are at endextinction.org/victoria.
On behalf of all of us at San Diego Zoo Global, thank you for your continued support. Miracles like this aren’t possible without you! You bring hope to these incredible animals, and bring us closer to saving them from extinction—one rhino at a time!