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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

Rhino Trek – New Black Rhino’s Journey from Atlanta to Cincinnati

Male black rhinoceros “Faru,” which is short for Kifaru (the Swahili name for rhino), arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo on July 21, 2015.

Faru and Seyia – A Match Made…by the SSP!

The 2,800 pound rhino was brought to the Cincinnati Zoo from Zoo Atlanta on a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoo and Aquarium’s (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP has determined that Faru and the Cincinnati Zoo’s female black rhino, “Seyia,” are a good genetic match.  So, if all goes well, there could be rhino calves in the Zoo’s future!

Faru

Faru

Seyia

Seyia

Keepers have spent the past several months getting to know Faru and his behavioral patterns. He will spend 2 to 6 weeks settling in, learning behaviors, and getting to know the Cincinnati Zoo animal care staff before being introduced to visitors.

“There is frequent communication between keepers before the rhinoceros is transferred. We really try to learn their behavioral patterns and habits so we can best accommodate them once they’ve arrived. The transfer process is incredibly involved,” said head keeper Randy Pairan.

Keeper Marjorie Barthel says, “He is doing well. We are taking things very slowly with him to allow him to move forward with the least amount of stress possible. He has come so far already in his new home.  Right now I’m working on building a relationship with him. We need to trust each other.”

Faru was born at the San Antonio Zoological Gardens & Aquarium in 2004.  He moved to Atlanta in April 2011 where he bred one calf. Because black rhinos are solitary animals, Faru will stay separated from Seyia until late fall.  They will be put together when they are familiar with each other and ready to breed.  Introductions are going well.

Seyia and Faru meet for the first time.

Seyia and Faru meet for the first time.

Faru’s Journey to Cincinnati

So how exactly do you move a large rhino from Atlanta to Cincinnati? Follow Faru’s journey in the images below to find out!

In Atlanta picking up the crate with a fork lift to take it to the truck.

In Atlanta picking up the crate with a fork lift to take it to the truck.

Atlanta crew raising the crate to the truck.

Atlanta crew raising the crate to the truck.

All loaded and ready to go!

All loaded and ready to go!

He made it to Cincinnati! A giant crane carefully lowering the crate into his new yard.

He made it to Cincinnati! A giant crane carefully lowering the crate into his new yard.

Mwah.

Mwah.

About Black Rhinos

The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is native to the eastern and central areas of Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.  They eat mostly leafy plants, branches, shoots, thorny wood bushes, and fruit. Black rhinos also have two large horns made of keratin that they use for defense, intimidation, and feeding. An adult can weigh anywhere between 1,760 and 3,080 pounds, and newborns (calves) weigh between 35 and 55 pounds. Black rhinos breed year-round and have a gestation period that lasts 15 months. They are one of the oldest known species of mammals.

Faru’s species is critically endangered with more than 115 individuals being managed by the SSP.  As recently as 1970, an estimated 65,000 black rhinos could be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. However, between 1970 and 1992, 96-percent of Africa’s remaining black rhinos were killed in a wave of poaching due to the value of their horns. Heightened conservation efforts following the poaching increase led the black rhino population to grow from 2,410 in 1995 to a current total of 4,848. Today, black rhinos live in protected parks located in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, and Tanzania. Poaching is still a serious problem, threatening to wipe out decades of conservation efforts. Even protected parks experience poaching breeches, which means the amount of safe land available to black rhinos is diminishing.

The Cincinnati Zoo’s Carl H. Lindner Jr. Family Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) will be doing reproductive research on Faru and Seyia as part of the continued efforts to save the black rhinos. All five species of rhinoceros—White, Black, Greater One-Horned (aka Indian), Sumatran, and Javan—are perilously close to extinction in the wild.

August 7, 2015   3 Comments

A Study to Honor Suci the Sumatran Rhino

The loss of our female Sumatran rhino “Suci” to iron storage disease just over a year ago on March 30, 2014 was a devastating blow to the Cincinnati Zoo’s Sumatran rhino breeding program. Iron storage disease is an insidious disease affecting many wildlife species that are maintained in zoos, ranging from marine mammals to birds. In addition to Sumatran rhinos, black rhinos are susceptible to the disease, whereas white rhinos and Indian rhinos remain largely unaffected.

Suci

Suci

The disease is extremely challenging because we do not know how to prevent it, diagnose it or treat it. The only known cure for the disease is frequent, large volume phlebotomies (blood collection), but nobody knows how much blood to draw or how often it must be removed to keep a rhino healthy, and it is difficult to perform phlebotomies without anesthesia. The best method for monitoring iron storage disease is to measure serum concentrations of ferritin, a protein involved in iron transport and storage, but ferritin can be species-specific, so an assay for humans or horses may not work accurately in rhinos. Such was the case with our Sumatran rhinos.

Electrophoresis gel of isolated rhino ferritin

Electrophoresis gel of isolated rhino ferritin

However, thanks to a dear family committed to helping rhinos that wanted to make a gift in honor of Suci, CREW has embarked on a new study to develop an assay specific for measuring rhino ferritin. The first step – isolating the rhino ferritin protein – is complete, and our goal is to have a functional assay by this coming summer. Our hope is that the assay will be used to monitor iron storage status in many rhinos throughout North American zoos to ensure the disease is detected before the rhino becomes sick.

This project was made possible by the generous donation of Mr. and Mrs. Jeremy S. Hilton and Family.

(Reprinted from CREW Review Fall 2014)

April 3, 2015   4 Comments