Halloween at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Australia saw the birth of a baby black rhino, a rare species with fewer than 5,500 individuals left in the wild.
Bakhita and her new calf [Photo by Rick Stevens, Taronga Western Plains Zoo]
This is the second black rhino birth this year, which is extremely good news to conservation efforts geared toward pulling the critically endangered species back from the brink. Bakhita and Kwanzaa, the new baby’s mother and father, are luckily already experienced parents. Bakhita in particular has a daughter named Kufara, who herself has also already birthed a daughter named Mesi back in April. Mesi was thus the first black rhino baby to be born in 2017, while this recent newborn was the second.
"Every birth is special but to have two black rhino calves born in one year is particularly exciting,” says rhino keeper Scott Smith. “We're thrilled."
Black rhinos were once the most numerous of rhino species. How, then, did their numbers drop from several hundred thousand to between 5,042 to 5,455 today?
The new calf's birth is good news to black rhino conservation efforts [Photo by Taronga Western Plains Zoo]
At some point during the 20th century, black rhinos numbered up to 850,000. By 1960, however, only 100,000 individuals remained. Poaching then reduced these numbers by about 98%. Rhino populations reached their lowest numbers in 1995, with just 2,410 individuals left.
Present rhino numbers are therefore actually the result of a strong comeback. This shows that black rhino populations do have a very good chance of slowly but steadily regaining their numbers. South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe all invest in black rhino conservation, and collectively protect 96.1% of wild black rhinos.
The main threat for black rhinos is, unsurprisingly, poaching. Black rhinos are poached for their horns, which have ornamental uses as well as uses in traditional Chinese medicine. The horns are also used to treat cancer, though there is no scientific basis that this works. War and civil unrest in several African countries have also impacted the resident black rhino population. Things like habitat changes and the presence of rival species can also affect the species’s numbers.
Fortunately, black rhino populations are bouncing back. International commercial trade of black rhino parts and products has been prohibited, which will hopefully deter poaching. There are also conservancies, conservation areas, and protection zones for remaining black rhino populations.
The calf is said to be strong and inquisitive, which is even more good news for the species [Photo by Rick Stevens, Taronga Western Plains Zoo]
Zookeepers at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo say that the new baby rhino, a male, is doing very well. "The birth occurred in the early hours of Halloween, following a 15-month gestation period for Bakhita,” says Smith. It was a smooth delivery and the calf is strong, healthy and well.”
"The new calf is one of the biggest black rhino calves born here at the Zoo, with an estimated birth weight of 35 to 40 kilograms [around 80 lbs]. We're pleased to see he is suckling very well from Bakhita." Bakhita herself was the first female black rhino calf ever to be born at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
The baby is currently getting used to his surroundings, as well as his human handlers. As of now, however, visitors to the zoo won’t be able to get their first glimpse of the baby rhino, as well as his mother. The two are still bonding, but the public will be able to view them in early 2018.
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