Rare rhino born at Chester Zoo

A rare greater one-horned rhino calf has been born at Chester Zoo.

The female calf was delivered by mum Asha (15) on 14 October at 4.24pm and the birth was captured by the zoo’s cameras.

Keepers say the new arrival has bonded closely with mum and already sports the same slightly wrinkled armoured plating as her parents. 

The species was once found roaming across the entire northern part of the Indian subcontinent, but is now only present in a small area in India and Nepal. Listed as vulnerable to extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List of threatened species, there are only around 3,000 greater one-horned rhinos estimated to be left in the wild as they battle illegal poaching for their horns and habitat loss.

Greater one-horned rhinos are pregnant for around 15 months, so conservationists at the zoo have patiently waited for the calf’s arrival.

Sam Harley, Rhino Team Manager at Chester Zoo, said, “We’re absolutely thrilled with Asha and her new arrival. It’s been 4 years since a greater one-horned rhino calf was born here at Chester Zoo and they really are an incredible sight.

“On the day the calf was born, we noticed that Asha was uncharacteristically lethargic and off her food so we had a suspicion that she was soon to give birth. We saw her water break at around 4.10pm as we watched on remotely via our hidden cameras, then at 4.24pm, she pushed her little one out into the world. It was a true privilege to witness such a special event.

“The sheer size of this species is incredible – the calf was born weighing 50kg and she’ll grow to around 1.7 tonnes. But despite their enormous stature, this species has a really soft side. Mum and calf have been so relaxed and calm, spending time side-by-side bonding together.

“In the wild, rhinos are under threat from habitat loss, as well as poaching. It’s a great shame that these pre-historic looking animals lose their lives for something they don’t even need – their horns – which are used in traditional Asian medicine. There’s no scientific proof that these medicines work, meaning these gentle giants are being slaughtered for absolutely no reason. 

“This stark fact makes the reason we work with this species so important. Not everyone is lucky enough to see a rhino in the wild, but Asha, dad Beni, and their new calf help our two million visitors a year to connect with this magnificent species. At one point, there were less than 200 in the wild so it’s a real privilege to be able to care for this new born.”

Asha’s pregnancy was tracked by the zoo’s onsite endocrinology lab, which monitors the hormones in dung samples to check how a pregnancy is progressing.

John O’Hanlon, Laboratory Technician at Chester Zoo, said, “We’re the only zoo in the UK to have an onsite endocrinology lab, which allows us to track an animal’s hormones and even its pregnancy. Performing an ultrasound with an Indian rhino, and that amazingly thick skin. isn’t easy, but by collecting and monitoring weekly samples of Asha’s dung, we’re able to track the pregnancy to see how mum and calf are doing.

“Our lab work doesn’t stop there, it also tells us things like when different species come into season and when the right time would be to pair them with a mate. We process hundreds of samples a day from zoos all around the UK and Europe, and working with partners in Kenya, we’re building on what we do here at Chester Zoo to support wild rhino populations. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you are contributing to preventing the extinction of so many precious species.”

Chester Zoo and its partners the Wildlife Trust of India are working to protect threatened species across the Greater Manas landscape in Assam in the north east of India. This includes Manas National Park, which is home to an important population of greater one-horned rhinos.

The not-for-profit conservation zoo has also previously supported the India Rhino Vision 2020, through Save the Rhino International, a conservation project which has seen the greater one-horned rhino population grow to from just 200 to around 3,000 across India and Nepal.

Keepers have picked three names for the new calf and the public can vote for their favourite. The final names are Thuli, which is a river in Nepal, Jiya, which is the Indian meaning for sunshine, and Bahula, which is the Indian meaning for star. To have your say, head to Chester Zoo’s Facebook page and cast your vote: www.facebook.com/chesterzoo1/

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