Rhino mother and calf frolicking in San Diego Zoo
A female southern white rhino calf, born April 30 to first-time mother Kiazi and father Maoto, gets all of her adorable four feet off the ground while romping in her field enclosure yesterday morning (May 18, 2017) at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, under the watchful eye of her attentive mother.
Christopher Tubbs, Ph.D., a senior scientist in Reproductive Sciences at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and his colleagues have been working for nine years to determine why southern white rhino females born in zoos tend not to bear offspring as often as their wild relatives. This problem is not found in other species of rhinos living in zoos. Through extensive research, it was discovered that the animals may be sensitive to compounds called phytoestrogens found in soy and alfalfa, which are a component of the animals' diet in zoos. During their 16-month gestation, female calves could be exposed to the compounds through their mother's diet, resulting in infertility issues later in their life.
"The birth of Kiazi's calf gives us a great deal of hope that by feeding low phytoestrogens at our institution and others, we can once again have a healthy, self-sustaining captive southern white rhinoceros population," Tubbs said. "With the high level of poaching currently happening in Africa, having a healthy ex situ population of rhinos is as important as ever. This calf is an example of how we are using cutting-edge, laboratory science to lead the fight against extinction."
This calf is the 96th southern white rhino calf born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park since 1972. Estimated to weigh around 125 pounds at birth, the calf will nurse from her mother for up to 14 months, and she is expected to gain about 100 pounds a month in her first year. When full grown, at around 3 years of age, she could weigh 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. The rhino calf and her mom can best be seen roaming their habitat from the Park's Africa Tram Safari or a Caravan Safari.
Photo credit: San Diego Zoo Safari Park