On June 22 2013, the Montgomery Zoo in Alabama announced the birth a special rhino baby that has very strong ties to Cincinnati. Sixteen months earlier, we applied the artificial insemination (AI) technique pioneered at the Cincinnati Zoo to a 12 year old female Indian rhino named ‘Jeta’ at the Montgomery Zoo. While Jeta successfully conceived and gave birth through natural breeding in 2005 and 2007, AI was requested in 2011 due to behavioral incompatibility with her current mate, Himal. The ability to integrate AI into the situation helped these rhinos, since risks of injuries due to aggressive interactions between the pair were avoided. While female Indian rhinos at the Cincinnati Zoo have been conditioned for AI without the use of anesthetics, a new approach was needed in order to expand this research to other zoos. Although logistically difficult, the strategy worked because the Montgomery Zoo’s keeper and veterinary staff were committed to collecting samples and monitoring their rhino closely for signs of behavioral estrus. After the third AI attempt on Jeta using sperm that had been stored in CREW’s CryoBioBank for eight years, the first Indian rhino AI pregnancy outside of Cincinnati was produced!
Jeta’s calf was given the name Ethan. I visited Ethan and his mom this past weekend, when we filmed a live segment for the Today show. I was joined by our Public Relations manager Tiffany Barnes who set up and organized the Today show filming in conjunction with the Montgomery Zoo. The day we arrived, Ethan turned 2 weeks old and the Montgomery Zoo staff had just gotten the first weight on him. Ethan weighed in at 181 lbs, confirming this little guy has not missed a single meal!
While special circumstances may have surrounded Ethan’s birth, he is acting like any other rhino calf. Mom Jeta is teaching him everything he needs to know about being and behaving like an Indian rhino- she is amazing! She uses her nose and head to guide him where she wants him to be. I love this picture taken of him during the Today show filming, here he is giving a look very typical of Indian rhinos, standing with his head held high and boldly looking on at what we were doing.
Ethan’s birth represents an important and new step in managing captive Indian rhinos. By producing offspring from non- or under-represented individuals, CREW is helping to ensure a genetically healthy captive population of Indian rhinos exists in the future. Most importantly, this calf signifies how collaboration among the zoo community can achieve great things for the animals in their care. We anticipate future AI attempts will build upon this novel approach to help not only our zoo, but other zoos produce baby Indian rhinos.