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A RARE Endeavour: CREW Scientists Assist Rhino Reproduction

With a history of verified results from collaborative research, CREW scientists understand the importance of developing
scientific capacity within individuals and organizations throughout North America to overcome the serious loss of
genetic diversity facing captive African and Asian rhino populations.

Indian rhino (Photo: DJJAM)

Indian rhino (Photo: DJJAM)

In the first year of a three-year National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), CREW
has begun building a Rhino Assisted Reproduction Enterprise (RARE) in collaboration with SeaWorld Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center and several other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. These zoos contribute the veterinary and rhino keeper staff time needed to learn and implement rhino assisted reproductive techniques,
with the necessary training, tools and laboratory support provided by CREW.

One objective of the grant is to contribute to the genetic management and propagation of captive Indian rhinos through artificial insemination (AI). Although AI in Indian rhinos is still a work in progress, the achievements made during CREW’s initial 8-year effort are impressive with six conceptions and four term calves produced. Because there is a steep learning curve to these procedures, we are hopeful that success will become even more common over time. Participating zoos agree to collect and ship rhino urine samples on a frequent basis to CREW for hormone analysis needed to time AI. Rhino keeper staff at each facility condition females to enter a chute for the purpose of performing AI and the standing sedation protocol already established for successful intrauterine AI in this species is implemented prior to expected ovulation date. Each facility observes one AI before performing the next AI under CREW supervision.

Dr. Monica Stoops (CREW) and Dr. Anneke Moresco (Denver Zoo) discuss results of an ultrasound exam conducted on a sedated female Indian rhino.

Dr. Monica Stoops (CREW) and Dr. Anneke Moresco (Denver Zoo) discuss results of an ultrasound exam conducted on a sedated female Indian rhino.

We are happy to report that the Denver Zoo team is now fully trained in Indian rhino AI and is performing procedures in house using sperm from CREW’s CryoBioBank. Our long-term commitment to rhino conservation has positioned us to respond to the growing need of zoos to build their capacity for assisted reproductive technology for rhinos. We are gladly meeting this challenge and enjoying establishing a network of RARE researchers united for a common cause – to save rhinos. A RARE endeavor indeed.

February 8, 2016   2 Comments

Coming Up: Rhino Awareness Days and Bowling for Rhinos

Rhino Awareness Days

World Rhino Day falls on a Tuesday this year, September 22, so the Zoo is going to celebrate Rhino Awareness Days, free with regular Zoo admission, the following weekend. From 10:00 to 3:00 on September 26 and 27, guests are invited to learn more about rhinos and how we can help save them in the wild.

World Rhino Day logo

CREW Volunteers will be on hand at the Sumatran rhino exhibit to tell Harapan’s story, the last Sumatran rhino on exhibit in the United States. Here guests can catch a last glimpse of Harapan before he leaves for Indonesia and wish him well on his journey. With less than 100 Sumatran rhinos left on Earth, Harapan will move to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary where he will have the opportunity to breed and contribute to his species’ survival. His departure marks the end of an era for the Cincinnati Zoo’s Sumatran rhino breeding program, the only captive breeding program in the United States to produce calves for this critically endangered species. An exact date for Harapan’s departure has not been set, but the Zoo is pushing for the move to happen this fall. Until then, guests can visit him in Wildlife Canyon daily from 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., weather permitting.

Speaking of Harapan’s departure, there’s exciting news about his brother, and Cincinnati Zoo born Sumatran rhino, Andalas. The critically-endangered Sumatran rhino population will soon increase by one.  In a species with fewer than 100 individuals left on the planet, one is a significant number. Andalas and Ratu are expecting a calf in May 2016. Learn more and see ultra sound images here

We're going to miss Harapan's adorable face and hope the females in Indonesia find him irresistible!  (Photo: Kathy Newton)

We’re going to miss Harapan’s adorable face and hope the females in Indonesia find him irresistible! (Photo: Kathy Newton)

On the other side of the Zoo, guests can engage with Volunteer Educators at the CREW Wild Discover Zone to learn more about all of our rhino research programs. CREW is currently undertaking a project to expand access and build capacity for African and Asian rhino reproductive care within North American zoological facilities. The Zone is set up next to the Indian and black rhino exhibits where guests might get the chance to say hello to our newest rhino resident, a black rhino male named Faru.

Faru is doing great here in his new home and his training is going very well. The keepers are working with him to present both sides of his body  on cue and open his mouth to allow them to check his teeth and tongue. This allows them to perform basic foot care, daily baths, and administer medical care when needed with minimal stress to Faru. He and the female, Seyia, are still getting to know each other, and the hope is to put them together for breeding later this fall.

Welcome Faru to the Zoo! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Welcome Faru to the Zoo! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

The keepers are also working with CREW to determine the reproductive cycle of our one and only Indian rhino, Manjula, using ultrasound and urine analysis. Manjula is chute-trained, target-trained, and she will hold her mouth open while they shine a flashlight inside to check everything. This training has been essential to administering the hormone to help her ovulate and also give the anesthetics used for her standing sedation procedures- both of which she does willingly and cooperatively! The plan is to artificially inseminate Manjula. The keepers are also currently working on blood draw training and teaching Manjula to stand her rear feet in rubber tubs for a foot soak. (Indian rhinos are prone to foot issues.)

Manjula, Indian rhino (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Manjula, Indian rhino (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Bowling for Rhinos

What else can you do to help save rhinos? Go bowling! The Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers is holding its second annual Bowling for Rhinos event on October 17 to raise awareness and funds for rhino conservation.To be held from 6:00 to 8:30 at Stone Lanes in Norwood, the event is sure to be tons of fun! In addition to bowling, there will be t-shirts for sale, a silent auction and a raffle to meet a rhino at the Cincinnati Zoo! Buy your tickets online now before they sell out!

Bowling for Rhinos 2015 flyer

September 24, 2015   No Comments

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