Endangered black rhino baby born on Christmas Eve at Michigan zoo

December 27, 2019, 2:21 p.m.
baby black rhino born on Christmas Eve
Photo: Potter Park Zoo

Early in the morning on Christmas Eve, a baby black rhino was born at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan. The baby boy, who has not yet been named by humans, seems to be healthy and bonding well with his mother, according to zoo officials.

First-time mother Doppsee gave birth at 5:40 a.m. on Dec. 24, and her calf stood up for the first time about 90 minutes later, the zoo announced in a blog post. He began nursing by 9 a.m., and continues to nurse frequently.

The calf's father, Phineus, came to Potter Park Zoo from Texas in 2017, according to the zoo, which notes he was brought to Michigan specifically to breed with Doppsee.

Veterinarians and other zoo staff watched the delivery via video feed from a tent outside the "rhino barn" where Doppsee gave birth, then gave the pair a few hours together before going in to check on them.

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

The mother and son are still bonding behind the scenes in the rhino barn, according to the zoo, and since rhinos are not adapted for Michigan winters, they'll remain out of public view until the spring. But that doesn't mean we have to wait till then for news — the zoo staff has promised to share regular updates, photos and videos on social media and the zoo's blog.

'A monumental moment'

Black rhinos are one of the five rhinoceros species alive today, and the smaller of the two native to Africa. Their natural habitat stretches across much of southern and eastern Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. They are a critically endangered species, still struggling to recover from a population crash last century, which saw their numbers fall from about 100,000 in 1960 to about 2,500 in 1995.

There were once as many as 850,000 black rhinos in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but their population plummeted during the 19th and 20th centuries due to relentless hunting and land clearing for settlement and farming. The species has fared better in recent years, with its wild population now up to more than 5,000. That's still low, however, and black rhinos continue to face threats from poaching as well as war and civil unrest among humans.

The new calf is the first black rhino born in the 100-year history of the Potter Park Zoo, which is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and participates in the AZA's Species Survival Plan, a program designed to ensure the survival and genetic diversity of endangered wildlife at zoos and aquariums. Fewer than 60 black rhinos currently live at AZA-accredited zoos.

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