The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro has been celebrating the births of two southern white rhinoceroses this summer. It’s part of a breeding program to help preserve the large mammals. But don't hold your breath waiting for a rhino to be born – it has taken more than 40 years for these rhino calves to be born in North Carolina.
But last month, two rhinos gave birth at the zoo, within days of each. Linda, the dominant female, delivered Nandi on July 2. And Linda's 5,400-pound daughter Kit, birthed a calf on July 13. Zoo officials say it's "raining rhinos!" Only 13 southern white baby rhinos have been born in North America in the past year, according to the Association of Zoos and Acquariums.
Guy Lichty, curator of mammals at the North Carolina Zoo, when the last baby rhino was born at their zoo 41 years ago, the mama rhino arrived already pregnant. Lichty says this time, it was different.
“We geared up and beefed up our program to really get into rhinos big time, and re-adjusted what we were doing to be more successful," said Lichty, who will be retiring this year. "That was back in the early 2000s and we’re just now having the success that we’ve been waiting for quite some time. So it’s an exciting time.”
Lichty says it was also a stressful time for the zoo staff and for its one, breeding male rhino named Stormy. Lichty says their match-making dating game wasn’t working and the zoo was about to trade Stormy for another male rhino.
“The keeper saw breeding behavior but it wasn’t correct breeding behavior, it wasn’t mechanically correct. This inexperienced male was having difficulty with his approach, so to speak," said Lichty. "Eventually though, at the end of the day, he got the job done when we weren’t watching.”
Before Stormy was brought to the North Carolina Zoo for natural breeding, the zoo embarked on what they call an “elaborate and logistically complicated procedure” to artificially inseminate female rhinos. Lichty says they even brought in experts from Germany to help.
“And it was quite an impressive procedure, if I do say so myself, but unfortunately, it didn’t take," said Lichty.
But today, finally, there are two baby girl rhinos. Nandi and the zoo is still working on a name for the second one.
Krycia Flores travelled from Greensboro to see her first baby rhino.
“We came to see it yes, because this is the first time for so many people to see it," said Flores, with a big camera around her neck. "So we are very excited, we have like a group of 15 people."
The North Carolina Zoo is in partnership with several zoos across the country to help preserve the southern white rhino, which is considered “near threatened” because of poaching and loss of habitat. There are between 17,000 and 20,000 worldwide. The northern white rhino is almost extinct because of the same reasons.
While the celebration continues over the new baby rhinos at the North Carolina Zoo, the wait continues for another first – there still hasn’t been a baby elephant born at the zoo.