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Category — Conservation

CREW Works to Enhance Fertility in White Rhinos

White rhino with calf (Photo: James Temple)

White rhino with calf (Photo: James Temple)

In September, the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research (CREW) was awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institution of Museum and Library Services in support of a Rhino Assisted Reproduction Enterprise (RARE) initiative for Indian rhinos and African white rhinos. Dr. Monica Stoops will be the Project Director for the grant work and will be working in partnership with Dr. Justine O’Brien from the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center (SWBGRRC), which includes a state-of-the-art sperm sorting and cryopreservation laboratory.  CREW will undertake the project to expand access and build capacity for African and Asian rhino reproductive care within North American zoological facilities. Eight zoos have committed to building a Rhino Assisted Reproduction Enterprise (RARE) in collaboration with CREW.  This project will help 1) contribute to the genetic management and propagation of captive Indian rhinos through artificial insemination (AI); 2) enhance southern white rhino fertility through exogenous hormone administration prior to natural breeding or AI; 3) build upon national rhino gamete rescue centers at CREW and SWBGRRC; and 4) provide collaborating facilities with individualized training and/or support in rhino assisted reproductive technology (exogenous hormone protocols, ultrasonography, endocrine analysis, AI, and sperm collection, sorting and cryopreservation).

One part of the proposed research will be to continue and expand upon a preliminary CREW investigation conducted to develop an exogenous hormone protocol to initiate reproductive activity in previously acyclic southern white rhinos. The African white rhino remains the most popular rhino species held in U.S. zoos (although we do not currently house them here in Cincinnati). Although captive breeding has been successful and a sufficient number of calves are being produced to consistently maintain the population, the proportion of breeding recommendations resulting in offspring is quite low. It is estimated that <30% of all wild born and <20% of captive born African white rhinos have reproduced in captivity. These numbers reflect a major impediment to achieving a sustainable captive breeding program for this species.

White rhino with calf at one of the partnering institutions, Lowry Park Zoo (Photo: Matthew Paulson)

White rhino with calf at one of the partnering institutions, Lowry Park Zoo (Photo: Matthew Paulson)

A primary reason for the low reproductive rate is that a vast majority of females display long periods of acyclicity. Significant progress has been made in initiating reproductive activity in acyclic white rhinos in Europe using exogenous hormones. However, many drugs used overseas are not commercially available in the United States. Therefore, it became necessary
to develop novel hormone protocols using U.S. drugs to similarly promote a resumption in reproductive activity for acyclic white rhinos.

CREW scientists, in partnership with several North American zoos, embarked on a preliminary exogenous hormone trial in which four acyclic female white rhinos were treated. Females responded by growing preovulatory follicles, but did not stand for breeding by a male and required an additional hormone to ovulate. This initial hormone protocol may be adequate should artificial insemination be performed, but CREW scientists and partner zoos are working to develop an alternative hormone protocol that will result in natural mating so that more individual rhinos and institutions will benefit. By enhancing the fertility of captive African white rhinos, CREW is helping to ensure the sustainability of this rhino population.


January 14, 2015   1 Comment

Dog Log: Puppies, Puppies and More Puppies!

A very pregnant Imara

A very pregnant Imara with mate Brahma

It’s official folks! Our pair of African painted dogs, Imara and Brahma, are now a pack! Early on Monday, January 5, keepers observed Imara having contractions. Eight minutes later, the first pup was born and the new mama didn’t stop until almost 10pm that night. Normal time intervals between each birth are 30-90 minutes and Imara followed that almost exactly.

Two-year-old Imara came to Cincinnati this past summer from the Oglebay Good Zoo in Wheeling, West Virginia and eight-year-old Brahma, came to us from Zoo New England in Boston. The first time parents have done an exceptional job taking care of all the little ones. It’s a bit of a surprise considering neither of our dogs had a “traditional” upbringing.  Imara was hand reared when her mother didn’t take care of her litter and Brahma had spent the majority of his life with just his 2 brothers.

Brahma entering the box

Brahma enters the den to check on Imara and pups

We are ecstatic that these 2 dogs have taken to parenthood so quickly and easily. Captive African painted dog females aren’t necessarily well known for being the best mothers, but when they do what they are supposed to, they are phenomenal parents. What’s even more special is that although the males will help in varying degrees, for example guarding the nest box and bringing the female food, Brahma went above and beyond what would be considered typical male behavior. He actually groomed almost every single puppy as Imara delivered them and aided her with the removal of the placenta (which normally the females handle all by themselves).

I must admit, when we introduced Imara and Brahma, it was so anticlimactic that I wondered if they would just be buddies. You could tell that they would get along fine, but Brahma was way more into Imara than she was into him. Just because you put a male and female together, it doesn’t guarantee they will breed. In the wild, the alpha female will choose a mate, giving him breeding rights and alpha male status within the pack. In captivity, the females don’t always have the option. However, it is very clear that these 2 dogs were meant to be parents. And fantastic parents at that!

We still have a long road ahead of us. The first couple of months are the most critical. African painted dogs are a sensitive and somewhat fragile species, but if the last few days are any indication, this litter will help increase the number of dogs in the captive population and also increase their genetic diversity. At this time, when captive African painted dog numbers (in North America) are low, every dog counts. These puppies will grow up to be ambassadors to their wild counterparts and will hopefully inspire people to help save this endangered species. For now, we will enjoy the dog pile, or in this case “squirming puppy pile”, as they continue to grow and learn from Imara and Brahma how to be the charismatic African painted dogs they were meant to be!

Imara and pups

Imara and pups

January 12, 2015   7 Comments

Gorilla Group Update and Travel Opportunity

I have really enjoyed sharing stories with you about our gorilla program throughout 2014. A lot has gone on including the continued integration of superstar Gladys into our gorilla family, the birth of little Mondika this summer and the excellent care she gets from her new mom Asha, the arrival of the impressive young silverback Harambe and the fantastic surrogacy project with baby Kamina. Although Kamina did not find a surrogate gorilla mother here the effort put forth by our fantastic surrogacy team has successfully instilled confidence and the skills she will need to join a gorilla family in Columbus. All good stuff!

That’s what the Cincinnati Zoo strives to do. Share our inspirational stories with all of you and connect people with wildlife everyday. I’m really looking forward to posting more about our gorillas here at the zoo and our efforts to help conserve wild gorillas throughout 2015.


Witness the Great Migration with me in Tanzania this May.

Witness the Great Migration with me in Tanzania this May. – Trip Details

One opportunity that I am really looking forward to is leading a trip to Tanzania this May to see the great migration with a potential side trip to Rwanda to see the critically endangered mountain gorillas. I would love to share this adventure and even more fun stories about our work here at the zoo with you there. Please have a look at this link. Should be an experience of a lifetime! Join me for a free trip preview on February 10, 2015, here at the Zoo.

Thanks again for your wonderful interest in what we do here and stay tuned for more!

January 12, 2015   No Comments