Kym has been a carnivore keeper for eight years, but recently switched to caring for herbivores and is writing a series about her new experiences. Read her previous post, New View of Enrichment.
The Wild Animal Park welcomed a new baby boy to our family on July 19, 2010. An eastern black rhino calf was born to mother Lembi and father Jambia at approximately 12:45 p.m. All four subspecies of black rhinos are endangered, with an estimate of only 4,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Only 639 to 700 eastern black rhinos are thought to be left in Africa. This new little guy is the 14th black rhino to be born at the Wild Animal Park and the fourth to these proud parents!
I was next door leading a training session with an Indian rhino when a call came in from a Journey into Africa tour guide informing us that we had a baby. It took me all of about 30 seconds to end the training session (sorry, Jontu!) and climb up onto the top of the black rhino compound to have a look! Although unsteady, the little guy was already up and following Mom around.
The gestation period for a black rhino is 15 to 16 months, so we had been expecting this new arrival for quite some time. Keepers separated the sire, Jambia (see post Making Friends with a Rhino), to a yard next to the exhibit a month ago to prepare for the birth. In the wild, a mother would keep her calf away from other rhinos, so we are allowing Lembi this same opportunity. Jambia has done well living with Mom and baby before, so he will most likely be let back into the exhibit in the next couple of months. Males do not take any part in the rearing of offspring, and Lembi will no doubt remind him of this! With her previous calves she has been quite protective, keeping Jambia at bay. No one wants to mess with a rhinoceros mother, rhinoceros fathers included! The time away from Jambia will also allow the calf bonding time with Mom, and, of course, growing time!
Keepers had been watching Lembi’s mammary development very closely. As with most animals, a rhino’s mammary glands will not swell with milk until a birth is imminent. For the past month we have been calling Lembi into a chute every day so we could get a good look at her “bag” (“keeper-speak” for mammary glands). Additionally, a photo of her bag was taken once a week so that we could track the development. Behaviorally, Lembi gave no indication of labor other than being slightly more aggressive the day of the birth. As the keepers fed and cleaned the exhibit, Lembi was much more active than usual, even charging the truck (but never making contact) a couple of times. Being as large as she was and with skin as thick as a rhino, it was impossible for us to see contractions, but I am sure any mother will tell you they don’t want to be bothered while in labor!
We gave Mom and son a day to settle and bond before we drove our vehicles back into the field exhibit again; all was calm. Lembi has been very cooperative and has come up to the training areas for biscuits and apples, little one in tow. We have not attempted to bring her into the chute where the scale is located since the birth but hope to do so in the next week. We don’t want to push things and want to be sure baby will follow Mom calmly. Not only would we like an updated post-pregnancy weight on Lembi, but we would love to record the weight of the calf.
Black rhino calves weigh an average of 80 pounds (36 kilograms) at birth, and we suspect he is right on target. By all accounts he seems very active and healthy. He is nursing well, follows Mom and imitates her every move as best he can on his pint-sized legs!
I will be sure to keep you posted on his progress and development. If you are out at the Wild Animal Park, be sure to take a tour on the Journey into Africa tram: you just might catch a glimpse of the cutest baby rhino ever!
Kym Nelson is a senior keeper at the Wild Animal Park.