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Baby Rhino In San Diego Gains Weight, Offers Promise For Saving A Species

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The baby rhino born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park two and a half weeks ago is thriving under the watchful protective eye of its mom. It also helps show a way for saving another rhinoceros species.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 The baby rhino born at the San Diego Zoo. Safari Park two and a half weeks ago is thriving under the watchful eye of Mam. KPBS reporter Eric Anderson says, the birth or to say is an important milestone on the long journey to save a rhino species hovering close to extinction.

Speaker 2: 00:19 Victoria led little Edward Out of their barn into an exercise paddock. They're not quite three week old. Southern White Rhino is feisty and keep her Johnny Cup. Piro says Edward wants mom to play along.

Speaker 3: 00:35 He's trying to engage her and play and she just might not be feeling as excited and as playful like a typical mom.

Speaker 2: 00:42 Edward also enjoys the muddy area in the middle of the pen. Computer says that the calf is curious and full of energy, especially in the mornings.

Speaker 3: 00:55 He is very bold. He's really silly and playful. Um, he's a good addition to our fe, our Rhino family here. He fits right in and he's doing well with his mom.

Speaker 2: 01:05 Mom is particularly attentive, occasionally shielding her son from [inaudible] fuckers. It's a protective spirit that keepers are happy to see and they're pleased. The calf who's packing on the weight. He was 148 pounds, just two days after birth. Now the little rhino weighs 220 pounds. Got Piro, says he'll add about 25 pounds a month during his first year of life. Edward's playful passion has zoo officials excited, but the zoos, reproductive physiologist, Barbara Duran says they're most pleased at the young rhino is here at all.

Speaker 3: 01:42 So this is our first successful artificial insemination and it was with frozen semen. That's, that's only happened once before in the whole world and it's the first artificially inseminated calf in North America.

Speaker 2: 01:55 Duran says Edward represents an important lifeline and the effort to save the critically endangered northern white rhino. Only two are still alive and both are too old to breed. Duran says Edward's mom. Victoria is one of six southern White Rhino. Females playing a critical role in the northern white rhino struggle against extinction

Speaker 3: 02:16 and now we know that Victoria is what we call a proven female. So she, we know she can conceive, she can carry a fetus to term, she can give birth and she can take care of it. That's really important for us because in the future Victoria and the other girls here at the Rhino rescue center are going to be surrogates for northern white rhino embryos.

Speaker 2: 02:36 Sorry, I just are still working out how to create northern white embryos from frozen cell samples. That gives to read time to get each of the six southern whites pregnant twice, once by artificial insemination and once by embryo implantation.

Speaker 3: 02:51 Once we're ready with northern white rhino embryos, these females, we'll each have had two calves so we know that they're fully capable.

Speaker 2: 02:58 Victoria has already taken

Speaker 4: 03:00 that first step and another member of the herd is close. Postdoctoral fellow Parker Pennington says another Rhino Female Amani is about 400 days into her pregnancy and a person might think that she would show it. No. Well, um, they're quite large animals and they don't show their pregnancy quite so much.

Speaker 2: 03:19 Pennington says the calf is located in the back half of the belly near the hind legs. She typically uses an ultrasound wand that gives researchers glimpses of the calf. She just doesn't get a complete picture because the ultrasound is small and the calf is large

Speaker 4: 03:34 because it does sit so deep into her belly, we can actually see it. Um, and we can even detect movement on occasion when it's feeling active.

Speaker 2: 03:42 Amani still has about a hundred days to go and her pregnancy, but so far, Pennington says she's tracked right along with the pregnancy that Victoria went through. She says the rhinos are helping teach researchers.

Speaker 4: 03:54 They're giving us some of the, um, the first ever information like this. Um, they're allowing us access so that we can actually see what's going on, um, and get some measurements. On occasion we can measure things like heart or a heart rate. And so that's new information for us

Speaker 2: 04:13 with one playful rhino calf already on the ground. And another one close attention is turning to the rest of the herd. And the hope is that maybe a couple of more rhinos will be pregnant by the end of the year. Eric Anderson KPBS news

Speaker 5: 04:37 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.