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Category — Animal Sciences

Another First for CREW: Indian Rhino Posthumously Fathers a Calf

CREW has done it again! We are excited to announce the birth of a female Indian rhino calf produced by artificial insemination (AI) conducted by CREW Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Monica Stoops, and born on June 5 at the Buffalo Zoo. From a historical standpoint, this is the first offspring for a male rhino who never contributed to the genetics of the Indian rhino population during his lifetime – a major victory for endangered species around the world and a lifetime of work in the making.

Rhino calf Monica

Rhino calf Monica

The father, “Jimmy,” died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2004.  Over the course of those ten years, Jimmy’s sperm was stored at -320°F in CREW’s CryoBioBank™ in Cincinnati, before it was taken to Buffalo, thawed and used in the AI.

Jimmy the Indian Rhino

Jimmy the Indian Rhino

“We are excited to share the news of Tashi’s calf with the world as it demonstrates how collaboration and teamwork among the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) organizations are making fundamental contributions to rhino conservation,” said Dr. Monica Stoops. “It is deeply heartening to know that the Cincinnati Zoo’s beloved male Indian rhino, Jimmy, will live on through this calf and we are proud that CREW’s CryoBioBank™ continues to contribute to this endangered species’ survival.”

“Tashi,” the Buffalo Zoo’s 17-year-old female has previously conceived and successfully given birth through natural breeding in both 2004 and 2008.  Unfortunately, her mate passed away and the Buffalo Zoo’s new male Indian rhino has not yet reached sexual maturity. Because long intervals between pregnancies in female rhinos can result in long-term infertility, keepers at the Buffalo Zoo knew it was critical to get Tashi pregnant again and reached out to Dr. Stoops for her expertise.

In February of 2013, Dr. Stoops worked closely with Buffalo Zoo’s rhino keeper Joe Hauser and veterinarian Dr. Kurt Volle to perform a standing sedation AI procedure on Tashi. Scientifically speaking, 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.  This is a science that could be necessary for thousands of species across the globe as habitat loss, poaching, and population fragmentation (among other reasons) threaten many with extinction.

The Buffalo Zoo staff monitored Tashi’s pregnancy over the 15-16 month gestation period and at 3:30 p.m., on June 5, she gave birth to a healthy female calf, weighing 144 pounds.

Rhino calf Monica,  Lead  Rhino Keeper Joe Hauser, CREW Reproductive Physiologist Dr. Monica Stoops

Rhino calf Monica, Lead Rhino Keeper Joe Hauser, and CREW Reproductive Physiologist Dr. Monica Stoops with CryoBioBank

“Without Dr. Stoops’ dedication to the species, and to the development of AI science, there is no doubt this calf would not be here today,” said Hauser. “She has spent countless hours spear-heading research and technology for Indian rhino conservation and the Buffalo Zoo is excited to acknowledge that dedication and announce that the name of the calf is “Monica.”

Tashi’s calf demonstrates that AI science is a repeatable and valuable tool to help manage the captive Indian rhino population. With only 59 Indian rhinos in captivity in North America and approximately 2,500 remaining in the wild, being able to successfully introduce genetics that are non or under-represented in the population is critical to maintaining the genetic diversity necessary to keep a population healthy and self-sustaining.

“We are always thrilled to welcome a new baby to the Buffalo Zoo, but this birth is particularly exciting because the science involved is critical to saving endangered animals,” said Dr. Donna Fernandes, President of the Buffalo Zoo. “This type of professional collaboration among AZA Zoos is vital to the important work we do as conservation organizations and we are honored to play a critical role.”

July 3, 2014   No Comments

John the Lion Meets His Match

Zoo guests may have noticed that John the lion has not been in his yard for the past couple of days. He’s been absent for a very good reason! On Wednesday, we opened the doors that separated John and Imani and introduced the male and female lions to each other for the first time!

John and Imani

John and Imani

This introduction has been a long time coming; several months of close monitoring and careful preparation have led up to this big moment for our young lions. For the last year, John and Imani have been living in separate enclosure areas. Typically John was housed in 2 indoor enclosures and had access to our exhibit yard. Imani was being housed in 3 indoor enclosures (across the hall from John), and had access to her own private play yard as well. Though the lions could see, hear and smell each other on a daily basis, they’d never met in the same space until now.

john_imani

John looks at Imani.

 

In order to ensure a successful first meeting, keepers wanted to be sure that both lions were fully grown, sexually mature, and confident and comfortable in their new homes at the Cincinnati Zoo before the lions began to share a territory. Additionally, keepers had to plan an introduction timeline that would be conducive to the potential birth of cubs (since John and Imani are a recommended breeding pair within the African lion SSP). An SSP, or Species Survival Plan, allows different zoological facilities to cooperatively manage specific, and typically threatened or endangered, species populations. In order to receive a breeding recommendation for two animals, SSP coordinators assess the representation of each animal’s genes within the captive population. If the genes of both individuals are not overly represented among the captive population, and if there is a zoo with the space to house the offspring, then you get the “okay” to breed the pair.  Utilizing SSPs allows zoos to ensure that we are maintaining as much genetic variation as possible among captive populations, and also avoiding inbreeding and unwanted pregnancies.

With warmer weather on the horizon and both lions showing positive indicators that they were ready to meet, the keepers determined that the time was right to introduce John and Imani. Initially, both cats were a little shy and hesitant to say hello, but after a few minutes of awkward, sideways glances, John came through the door for a sniff.  Some grumbles, barks and swats ensued (perfectly normal and expected behaviors), and then both lions quickly settled down and even made some attempts at breeding!

The two have been spending time together behind the scenes ever since, and the keepers are absolutely thrilled with their progress. John and Imani will slowly be introduced to the exhibit yard together according to their comfort level. While John is perfectly at home in the exhibit yard, Imani has not been out there yet, so we will respect her need to move forward slowly. Her comfort level will likely dictate when our lions will be publicly on exhibit together, and we appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this transition period.

On behalf of our lions, and all the keepers and staff involved, thank you all for your support and well-wishes! Our zoo guests have been so great about accepting John into the Zoo family, and we can’t wait for you all to meet Imani and see our newly bonded pair out on exhibit together soon!

 

May 2, 2014   7 Comments

Lion Enrichment

John the lion.

John the lion. Is that a smile?

John and Imani, our two African lions, are getting to know each other behind the scenes.  To make their eventual pairing as successful as possible, the introduction process is slow, strategic and multi-phased.

Today we gave John some straw from Imani’s enclosure.  You can see his response in the above photo.  The smile-like expression on his face, called a Flehmen Response, indicates that he’s “smelling” the scent using his mouth.  There is a special organ between the roof of the mouth and the palate that helps detect certain pheromones and chemical cues. Basically, John is trying to figure out if Imani is sexually receptive by smelling her urine. :) In the animal biz, we often call it “stink face”! It looks pretty good on John! ;)

Imani showed far less interest in the pile of John’s straw that she received, which is not surprising since we are  not seeing any estrus behaviors from her right now.

Check back for more updates on John and Imani’s introduction process.

 

February 21, 2014   1 Comment