Doppsee, a 12-year-old black rhino, presented a Michigan zoo and conservationists with an early holiday gift on Christmas Eve, delivering a newborn calf in a rare zoo birth for the endangered species.
The arrival of the male calf, which has not been named yet, was the first time that a black rhino had been born at the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan, in its 100-year history, according to a news release.
Pat Fountain, an animal care supervisor at the zoo, said Wednesday that the birth was one of the zoo’s “crowning achievements” because black rhinos are “statistically and historically very hard to breed and be successful.” Getting Doppsee to breed with Phineus, the calf’s father, who came to the zoo in 2017, was a “milestone,” he said.
About two black rhinos are born every year in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums in the United States, Fountain said, noting how rare the birth was.
Videos posted to the zoo’s Instagram account showed Doppsee’s delivery and the calf’s first steps, which came about 90 minutes after birth. The newborn animal appeared to be nursing, which the zoo called “encouraging.”
“As this is Doppsee’s first pregnancy, the animal care and veterinary staff will continue to monitor Doppsee and her calf closely in the next few weeks,” Ronan Eustace, a veterinarian at the zoo, said in the release.
The public will not be able to view the mother and calf until the spring, the news release said. However, the zoo will continue to provide pictures and videos of the animals on social media and the zoo’s blog.
The calf will remain with the mother for 2-4 years, Fountain said, adding that the zoo will not begin planning for the calf’s future for another two years. In that time frame, experts will review its genetics and determine if there are any good matches in the “zoo dating world” before possible sending the animal to a different zoo to breed, he said.
The birth highlighted how zoos increasingly use social media as a two-pronged tool, fueling their marketing efforts as well as raising awareness and conservation money for struggling species. Fiona, a hippopotamus born in 2017 at the Cincinnati Zoo, became a social media star and a local celebrity in part because the zoo documented her every move since birth. April, a giraffe in rural New York who became an internet sensation after her pregnancy was livestreamed to millions, is popular in her own right.
While the birth of a new black rhino calf warrants a celebration, the species is still considered critically endangered and could face extinction because of illegal poaching and loss of habitat, the zoo said. There are about 50 black rhinos in the care of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Overall, there are only about 5,000 black rhinos left in the world, according to Save the Rhino, an organization that works to conserve several rhino species, including the Sumatran rhino, whose population is less than 80.
The world’s black rhino population declined by 98% from 1960 to 1995, falling to a historical low of less than 2,500, largely because of European hunters and settlers, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The species has doubled in population since then, but it is still considered critically endangered.
About 98% of black rhinos in the world are in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. South Africa is home to 40% of the species.
Humans are the only predators to rhinos, who are hunted and killed for their horns, according to the foundation. There is a high demand for the horns in Asia, where they are used for ornamental carvings and are sometimes falsely advertised as a treatment for hangovers, impotence and even cancer.
In Michigan, at least, hopes are high for the species.
“This is a monumental moment for Potter Park Zoo that has taken our staff years of planning and hard work,” Cynthia Wagner, the zoo director, said in the news release. “We are dedicated to conserving rhinos and couldn’t be more excited about this successful black rhino birth.”