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A History of the Zoo’s Sumatran Rhino Breeding Program

The Sumatran rhino is considered the most endangered of all rhino species and perhaps the most endangered large mammal on Earth. It is estimated that no more than 100 animals exist on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The Zoo has worked for more than 30 years to save this species from extinction. Scientific breakthroughs by scientists at the Zoo’s Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) resulted in the birth of three calves at the Zoo, the first place to successfully breed this critically endangered species in captivity in over a century.

Sumatran rhino named Harapan (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Sumatran rhino named Harapan (Photo: Kathy Newton)

By 2014, only one Sumatran rhino remained in the Western hemisphere, a lone male named Harapan. With no chance to bring a female to the United States, the Zoo made the difficult yet significant decision to send Harapan to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia and transported him there in late October. There he will have the chance to mate and contribute to the survival of his species. It is the end of an era at the Cincinnati Zoo, but a fresh new hope for the Sumatran rhino. The Cincinnati Zoo remains committed to saving the Sumatran rhino by supporting Rhino Protection Units in the wild and continuing to lend support to the breeding program at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

Join me in a celebration of the milestones achieved by the Zoo’s Sumatran rhino breeding program over the past 30 years, with special thanks to the tireless dedication and commitment of Dr. Terri Roth, her team of CREW scientists, and the rhino keepers.

Dr. Terri Roth (Photo: Tom Uhlman)

Dr. Terri Roth (Photo: Tom Uhlman)

Sumatran Rhino Breeding Program Timeline

1984 – The Zoo officially formed a partnership (The Sumatran Rhino Trust Agreement) with Indonesia to establish a Sumatran rhino captive breeding program.

1989 - The Zoo received its first Sumatran rhino, a female named Mahatu.

1991 - The Zoo received its first male Sumatran rhino, Ipuh.  Unfortunately, initial breeding attempts with Mahatu were unsuccessful and she passed away in 1992.

Ipuh enjoys his browse.

Ipuh enjoys his browse.

1995 - The Zoo received a new female Sumatran rhino named Emi.

1996 - CREW scientists initiated research into the reproductive physiology of Sumatran rhinos using endocrinology and ultrasonography.

Dr. Roth conducts an ultrasound on Emi

Dr. Roth conducts an ultrasound on Emi

1997 - The first successful mating was achieved with Emi and Ipuh. Unfortunately, she lost the pregnancy by day 42 of gestation.

Ipuh and Emi

Ipuh and Emi

1998-1999 – Four additional pregnancies were confirmed by ultrasound; all were lost by three months of gestation.

2000 – A sixth pregnancy was confirmed. This time, Emi was prescribed a hormone supplement.

September 13, 2001 – Success! Emi gave birth to the first Sumatran rhino calf bred and born in captivity in 112 years. He was named Andalas.

Andalas, just one day old (Photo: David Jenike)

Andalas, just one day old (Photo: David Jenike)

July 30, 2004 - Emi gave birth to a second calf, a female named Suci.

Emi and her second calf, Suci (Photo: David Jenike)

Emi and her second calf, Suci (Photo: David Jenike)

February 19, 2007 - Andalas was relocated to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia with the goal of breeding with a female there.

Dr. Roth visits Andalas at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

Dr. Roth visits Andalas at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

April 29, 2007 - A third calf, a male named Harapan, was born at the Zoo to Emi.

Newborn Harapan sticks close to his mom's side.

Newborn Harapan sticks close to his mom’s side.

September 5, 2009 - Sadly, Emi passed away due to hemochromatosis, or iron storage disease. Her legacy lives on.

2010 - Andalas bred his mate, Ratu, producing the first pregnancy for the Indonesian breeding program. Unfortunately, Ratu lost her first pregnancy.

2011 - Ratu conceived for the third time and was prescribed the same hormone supplement successfully employed with Emi at the Cincinnati Zoo in the effort to produce Andalas.

June 23, 2012 – Ratu gave birth to a calf named Andatu at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary; he is the first captive bred and born Sumatran rhino in Southeast Asia.

Ratu and her calf, Andatu, at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

Ratu and her calf, Andatu, at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary.

February 2013 - Ipuh passes away from thyroid cancer at the approximate age of 33 years old. He was one of the oldest Sumatran rhinos in captivity.

March 30, 2014 - Sadly, Suci passes away from hemochromatosis, the same iron storage disease that befell her mother. Though Suci never reproduced, she contributed much to the body of knowledge we now have on Sumatran rhino development and maturation.

October 2014 - To carry on Ipuh’s legacy, his preserved remains are displayed at the Cincinnati Museum Center as part of the zoology collection.

2014 - The Zoo provided matching funds that contributed to a Debt for Nature deal struck between the United States and Indonesia. In return for lowering debt owed to the United States, Indonesia will commit nearly $12.7 million towards the conservation and protection of critically endangered species, including the Sumatran rhino, and their habitats over the next seven years.

October 2015 - Harapan made his journey from the Cincinnati Zoo to Sumatra. The hope is that he can breed with a female at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary and contribute to the survival of his species. Good luck, Harry!  Video of Harapan’s journey to Sumatra.

Harapan settles into his new home in Sumatra.

Harapan settles into his new home in Sumatra.

May 2016 - Expected birth date of Andalas and Ratu’s second calf in Indonesia!

Andatu and Ratu at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

Andatu and Ratu at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary

December 1, 2015   No Comments

Supporting Wild Cat Conservation Education in Tamaulipas, Mexico

Mexico is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world thanks to its large size, variety of habitats, and position as a transition zone between North America’s temperate and Central America’s tropical regions. However, little is known regarding the distribution and status of Mexico’s wildlife, including the iconic and endangered jaguar. Relatively little government land in Mexico is dedicated to conservation and most of its wildlife survives outside of protected areas. In northern Mexico, much of the land is owned by private cattle ranchers. Thus, cattle ranches have a critical role in conserving the country’s wildlife.

Jaguar (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

Jaguar (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge commissioned a non-profit organization, Conservación y Desarrollo de Espacios Naturales (CDEN), to conduct a monitoring study. CDEN used motion-sensitive cameras to determine the status of the ocelot on ranchland in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas with the hopes that the population would be healthy enough to allow the transfer of an ocelot to South Texas to boost its endangered ocelot population.

One of the most exciting results of the study was a visual record of an amazing variety of wildlife in the area. The cameras captured images of over 20 mammal species, including five wild cats: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, jaguarundis and bobcats. CDEN established the Wild Cats of Tamaulipas Binational Conservation Program (WCT) following the initial study to continue to monitor wild cats in the area and work with the local community and government to conserve them.

Wild Cats of Tamaulipas Poster

Wild Cats of Tamaulipas Poster

With support from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Gladys Porter Zoo, and San Antonio Zoo, WCT established an environmental education and outreach component in 2015 to provide educational programs and materials to local communities in Tamaulipas. The goal is to make people aware of the presence of wild cats in the region and convey the importance of protecting their populations. Wild cats play important roles as predators, maintaining balanced ecosystems by keeping prey populations in check.

Between July and October, approximately 1,600 people were reached through WCT education events including:

  • an education booth at the Tamatan Zoo in Ciudad Victoria,
  • a Biology Conference at the Technological Institute of Altamira,
  • a festival at Laguna Del Carpintero Bicentennial Park in Tampico,
  • another festival in Tampico during Workforce Security, Hygiene and Environment Week,
  • and presentations at two local businesses during their annual environmental awareness week activities.

    Presenting to Biology students (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

    Presenting to Biology students (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Activities at these various events included presentations and activity stations where people could talk to CDEN leaders, Francisco Illescas and Rossana Nuñez, about wild cats and get a good look at a camera trap and various cat skulls.

CDEN leaders, Francisco Illescas and Rossana Nuñez (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

CDEN leaders, Francisco Illescas and Rossana Nuñez (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

People could also make rubbings of jaguars and take a reusable bag of educational materials with them. The bags included crayons, jaguar activity booklets, and WCT brochures/field guides to the five wild cats, which the Cincinnati Zoo helped to create.

Educational materials (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Educational materials (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

People could also take their picture in a large stand-in of one of the scenes from the jaguar booklet.

Photo opportunity (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Photo opportunity (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

And, of course, the star of each event was Alan, the new jaguar mascot.

Alan, the jaguar mascot (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Alan, the jaguar mascot (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

WCT also created and printed 10 Wild Cats of Tamaulipas posters featuring camera trap images to use at the events.

Poster featuring a camera trap image of an ocelot (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

Poster featuring a camera trap image of an ocelot (Photo: Wild Cats of Tamaulipas)

The events were successful in increasing the general public’s awareness of the rich biodiversity still present in Tamaulipas, particularly the presence of five wild cat species. In addition to continuing public education events in the future, WCT plans to meet with and present to ranch owners at livestock association meetings to garner their support.

November 19, 2015   1 Comment

Discovering the Wonder of the Galapagos as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow

Kneeling on the white sandy shore of San Cristobal Island with camera in hand, I must have snapped a dozen pictures of the newborn Galapagos sea lion pup as it waddled over to sniff my knee, decided I wasn’t its mother, and moved on. Where is the pup’s mother? Out fishing, most likely. Since there are no land predators larger than the Galapagos hawk here on the islands, she is free to leave her pup alone for awhile without fearing that it will be snatched up as a meal.

Galapagos sea lion pup on San Cristobal (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Galapagos sea lion pup on San Cristobal (Photo: Shasta Bray)

I’ve been home from my Lindblad Expedition to the Galapagos for a month now and I am still reeling with wonder as I recall the beauty of the islands and the amazing wildlife we encountered. The Galapagos is a very special place and has given rise to a unique diversity of wildlife, many species of which are endemic to the islands (found nowhere else in the world). I am honored to have been selected as a 2015 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with National Geographic, which provided me with this hands-on professional development opportunity to learn about the Galapagos Islands from direct experience.

The National Geographic Endeavour served as our home base for the Lindblad Expedition. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

The National Geographic Endeavour served as our home base for the Lindblad Expedition. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Over the course of the week aboard the National Geographic Endeavour, we explored a handful of the western islands, all of which offered incredible opportunities for hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and, of course, photography.

On Espanola Island, the mockingbirds seemed to hike along with us. Instead of flying away, they were curious and came in close for a better look. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

On Espanola Island, the mockingbirds seemed to hike along with us. Instead of flying away, they were curious and came in close for a better look. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

The waved albatrosses certainly weren’t bothered by our presence. They continued with their courtship displays, bobbing heads and slapping beaks, not 10 feet away from us.  (Photo: Shasta Bray)

The waved albatrosses certainly weren’t bothered by our presence. They continued with their courtship displays, bobbing heads and slapping beaks, not 10 feet away from us. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

You literally have to watch where you step to keep from walking on top of marine iguanas splayed across the trails on several islands as they soak up the warm sun. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

You literally have to watch where you step to keep from walking on top of marine iguanas splayed across the trails on several islands as they soak up the warm sun. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Juvenile sea lions swim circles around you as you snorkel and blow bubbles in your face to elicit play. (Photo: Jennifer Scarborough)

Juvenile sea lions swim circles around you as you snorkel and blow bubbles in your face to elicit play. (Photo: Jennifer Scarborough)

Giant Galapagos tortoises barely look up from their meals as we, the paparazzi, snap photos. On Santa Cruz, tortoises move through ranchland during their annual migration up and down the volcanic slopes in search of the best salad bar. (Photo: Andrew Gilhooly)

Giant Galapagos tortoises barely look up from their meals as we, the paparazzi, snap photos. On Santa Cruz, tortoises move through ranchland during their annual migration up and down the volcanic slopes in search of the best salad bar. (Photo: Andrew Gilhooly)

You see, in the Galapagos, the animals have evolved little to no fear of people. They accept our presence just as they would that of any other creature, and it’s a surreal feeling. People are a part of the natural world, and I felt that more in the Galapagos than anywhere else I’ve been. At home, wildlife is much more wary of people, and for good reason. We are just as much of a threat, if not more, to wildlife than their natural predators.

Yet even though we can have negative impacts on wildlife and our environment, we also have the ability to solve the problems we cause. Conservation is not so much about managing wildlife as it is about managing people. In the Galapagos, it was clear that the way to preserve its unique biodiversity was not to exclude people entirely, but to regulate our actions to ensure sustainability. People are only allowed to visit certain islands at certain times of the year in a limited number of groups of a limited number of people, always with a trained naturalist and only to specific designated visitor sites. You must stay on the trails and leave no trace – and I mean nothing; if you have to go to the bathroom, you go back to the ship. While visiting, you may not approach wildlife any closer than six feet (though sometimes they approached you). In essence, wildlife has the right of way.

This young Nazca booby on Genovesa Island was so interested in us that it came almost too close to get a good picture of it. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

This young Nazca booby on Genovesa Island was so interested in us that it came almost too close to get a good picture of it. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

What if we showed that level of pride in and respect towards our wildlife and environment here at home? It would take a huge cultural shift, but I think it’s doable. In fact, I think we are making progress. People, in general, seem more aware of the issues and the impact of their actions now than they did when I started working at the Zoo 16 years ago. The sustainable living trend continues to gain traction. We are starting to realize that conservation is more than just saving any one species in particular; it’s about maintaining whole ecosystems and considering our place in them.

I am recharged and even more motivated than before to continue my work here at the Zoo. I plan to use the Galapagos as a model for how people and wildlife can coexist, specifically at our Galapagos tortoise exhibit. My goal is for guests to recognize that they are part of the natural world and have an important role to play in it both locally and globally.

I am extremely grateful to National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions for providing me with the opportunity to advance geographic literacy by engaging in this field-based experience and incorporating it into my work at the Zoo through the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program. 

Just one of the many beautiful landscapes of the Galapagos - Cerro Brujo, San Cristobal (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Just one of the many beautiful landscapes of the Galapagos – Cerro Brujo, San Cristobal (Photo: Shasta Bray)

November 9, 2015   2 Comments