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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

Cincinnati Zoo is Ready to Celebrate World Rhino Day!

Over the past year, Zoo staff and volunteers have been getting ready to celebrate World Rhino Day.  This year’s festivities will be held from 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday, September 21.  The goal for this event is to raise funds for rhino conservation and increase the public awareness of the major challenges faced in protecting wild rhino populations.  The Zoo is proud to exhibit three species of rhino; the African black rhino, the Indian rhino and the Sumatran rhino.  Zoo visitors can take part in family activities, animal demonstrations, keeper encounters and a rhino-riffic raffle.  The day will start with the official announcement of the winners for our Save the Rhinos poster contest.  The day will no doubt be a Rhinotastic success!

Zoo visitors get to meet our Rhino Mascot.

Zoo visitors get to meet our Rhino Mascot.

Be sure to check out the Rhino Marketplace outside Manatee Springs!

Be sure to check out the Rhino Marketplace outside Manatee Springs!

This little Zoo visitor learns how BIG a rhino footprint is from Keeper Wendy Shaffstall.

This little Zoo visitor learns how BIG a rhino footprint is from Keeper Wendy Shaffstall.

Rhino activity stations, like this one about rhino habitat, will be located throughout the Zoo on World Rhino Day.

Rhino activity stations, like this one about rhino habitat, will be located throughout the Zoo on World Rhino Day.

The raffle items this year include rhino-themed gift baskets, a one-year membership to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Rhino Rembrandt paintings artistically designed by the Zoo’s African black rhino ‘Seyia’ and Sumatran rhino ‘Harapan’, a one-of-a-kind Sumatran rhino footprint casting created by keeper and artist Lindsay Garrett, and an amazing print of Sumatran rhino ‘Harapan’ as designed and painted by artist Ali Armstrong as part of her ‘Scarce Project’.

Cincinnati Zoo Keeper and artist Lindsay Garrett shows off the Sumatran rhino footprint casting that will be up for raffle.

Cincinnati Zoo Keeper and artist Lindsay Garrett shows off the Sumatran rhino footprint casting that will be up for raffle.

Another raffle item includes this Sumatran rhino 'Harapan' print by artist Ali Armstrong

Another raffle item includes this Sumatran rhino ‘Harapan’ print by artist Ali Armstrong

Be sure to also come out to the Zoo on Monday, September 22, from 7-9 pm to hear the State of the Rhino Lecture by CREW Rhino Scientists Dr. Terri Roth.  Tickets to Dr. Roth’s lecture can be purchased online.  A rhino marketplace will take place in the lecture hall before and after the talk and another rhino raffle occur.  In addition, renowned children’s book author Mary Kay Carson and photographer Tom Uhlman will be available before and after the lecture to sign copies of their critically acclaimed book, Emi and the Rhino Scientist.

Come one, come all to help us celebrate rhinos!

WRD Words

September 19, 2014   1 Comment

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