Rare black rhino born at Michigan Zoo on Christmas Eve

Posted at 8:52 AM, Dec 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-26 10:59:05-05

"It's a boy!" The Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan, welcomed a critically endangered black rhino calf into the world this week — a true gift just in time for Christmas.

According to the zoo, the birth marks the first time one of these rare rhino has been born there in its 100-year history. Doppsee, the zoo's 12-year-old female black rhino, gave birth to her first calf on Christmas Eve.

In a video of the birth, the yet-to-be-named male calf can be seen standing on his own after about an hour and a half. He appears to be nursing well, zoo staff said, and has instantly become the star of the zoo's social media accounts.

"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," said Potter Park Zoo veterinarian Dr. Ronan Eustace. "But so far, the rhino calf appears healthy and we have observed frequent nursing shortly after the birth, which is encouraging."

The calf will not be introduced to the public until the weather improves in the spring. For now, he is busy bonding with his mother behind the scenes.

Black rhinos are critically endangered — close to extinction due to illegal poaching and habitat loss. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), only about 5,500 black rhinos are alive in the wild today, an improvement after their numbers dropped 98% to just 2,500 between 1960 and 1995.

Humans are adult rhinos' only predators in the wild, destroying their land for settlement and hunting them for their valuable horns, WWF said, both of which continue to threaten the species' recovery.

The calf's father, 12-year-old Phineus, came to the zoo in 2017 from the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas, for the specific purpose of breeding with Doppsee. On average, fewer than two black rhino calves are born under human care each year, so each birth is vital to maintaining their population, the zoo said.

"This is a monumental moment for Potter Park Zoo that has taken our staff years of planning and hard work," said Cynthia Wagner, the zoo's director. "We are dedicated to conserving rhinos and couldn't be more excited about this successful black rhino birth."

There are just over 50 black rhinos in the care of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which are aiding in rhino conservation efforts through the Species Survival Plan. In a blog post announcing the pregnancy, the zoo said the calf is likely to stay in Michigan for a few years before moving to a new facility to hopefully continue improving the black rhino population once he is of breeding age.

The zoo said it would keep the public regularly updated on the calf's progress on social media.