Australian zoo welcomes 1st southern white rhino calf born in decade

A staff member takes care of a female southern white rhino calf, born on March 21, 2023, at the veterinary facility of Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria, Australia, March 22, 2023. Photo: Werribee Open Range Zoo/Handout via Xinhua

SYDNEY -- The Werribee Open Range Zoo in the Australian state of Victoria has been celebrating the arrival of a southern white rhino calf, which is the first calf of this threatened species to be born at the zoo in almost a decade.

The zoo said in a statement on Thursday that following a 16-month pregnancy, first-time mother Kipenzi gave birth just before 4:00 a.m. local time on Tuesday to the female calf who weighed just over 60 kilograms. Both Kipenzi and the newborn has been carefully monitored by veterinarians and zookeepers.

According to the statement, keepers observed an absence of healthy bonding after birth, with the calf not thriving as expected during the first hours of infancy. It was later brought to the zoo's vet clinic for medical checks and supplementary feeding.

This is the first calf born to nine-year-old Kipenzi and 13-year-old male Kifaru who were paired in 2019 as part of the Australasian rhino regional breeding and conservation program.

Werribee Open Range Zoo Director Mark Pilgrim said that the calf is being provided with around-the-clock feeds of colostrum obtained from its mother.

"The calf's health has begun to improve, and it is now in the process of being reintroduced to mum," Pilgrim noted. "However, it will continue to remain under veterinary care during these critical early days.

Southern white rhinos are currently listed as "Near Threatened" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List with their population in decline. IUCN estimated that there is a total of 10,080 remaining in the wild, facing significant threats such as poaching and the illegal trading of rhino horn.

Pilgrim believed that the arrival of this precious calf is an important achievement in the fight to save the species from extinction.

"We are excited that visitors will be able to view the pair once we have navigated these typically high-risk early days following the birth," the zoo director said.

The newborn calf will be also named in the coming weeks through a voting competition.

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