Zoo Rhino is Expecting!

(Pittsburgh) (April 2012)—After almost two years of preparation, the Zoo is pleased to announce that Azizi, our black rhinoceros, is expecting! The calf will be the first rhino born at the Zoo in 47 years! The birth of a black rhino at the Pittsburgh Zoo is significant because they are critically endangered and Azizi’s calf will introduce new blood lines into the Zoo population.

“We are so excited,” says Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “For a while, we weren’t sure Azizi and Jomo would mate at all. Rhino breeding is intricate. It depends on the breeding cycle of the female and the mood of the rhinos. They both have to be interested at the same time. That may have to do with the fact that rhino breeding is anything but romantic. Rhinos chase each other, roar, and even hit each other before they mate.”

When keepers knew that Azizi was entering her breeding cycle, they allowed her to share the yard with Jomo. The first few times they were together, the pair went head to head, snorted, and charged each other. They repeated this for over a year before they finally mated.

“Once mating occurred, we studied blood work to record hormones levels,” says Dr. Baker. “Her progesterone is increasing, which indicates that she is likely pregnant.  A recent ultrasound confirmed that she is.

Rhino gestation is approximately 15 months, so keepers and the vet staff expect Azizi to give birth in the fall. Females give birth to one calf.  The first 30 days are critical for baby rhinos as the mortality rate is 25% in zoos and higher in the wild due to predators. But zoos are having great success in preventing the deaths of young calves, because of improved care and shared information between zoos. Keepers and vet staff will monitor the birth from another room and will only help if needed.

In early fall, the keepers will baby-proof the yard and the rooms where the calf will be born. Zoo staff said that natural barriers in the yard like logs and straw bales will be used to stop the baby from sliding through a fence or falling. Inside the rhino building, keepers will block off water gutters and add additional bars to prevent the baby from stepping through the gate into the main hallway.  “After the calf is born, we will see what works and what doesn’t and make necessary changes,” says Kathy Suthard, lead mammal keeper. 

There are 4,800 black rhinos remaining in the wild.  Between 1970 and 1992, the black rhino population decreased by 96% — the most dramatic of all rhino species. Black rhino populations are recovering slowly despite intensive efforts to end poaching, the biggest threat to animals worldwide.