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Rhinos on the move

Cleveland's successful black rhino program continues with latest pregnancy announcement

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New rhino Forrest

Sixteen-year-old Forrest arrived at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in summer 2016 with as much adult supervision as a typical teenager needs.

Multiple vehicles. Three forklifts to carefully lift and level his travel crate. More than 10 Zoo staffers including rangers, curators, maintenance supervisors (to drive the forklifts, of course), keepers and veterinary technicians.

The black rhinoceros came from Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, as part of the recommended Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) maintains SSPs for more than 500 species with the goal of managing and conserving a typically threatened or endangered species, like the black rhino. SSPs coordinate the breeding and transfer of animals between AZA-accredited zoos across the country to ensure a healthy and genetically diverse population.

Forrest was brought to Cleveland to breed with the genetically valuable matriarch of
the Zoo’s rhino herd —Inge (pronounced Ing-A), and her offspring Kibibbi. But before breeding, there would be a bit of waiting.

After two days of travel with a keeper from Busch Gardens, Forrest emerged from his crate into the rhino habitat in Cleveland and entered a 30-day period in which he is quarantined from the other rhinos.

“During that 30 days we conduct a postshipment exam, we adjust his diet to that of our other rhinos and we start to learn his personality and routine,” said Travis Vineyard, Curator of Animals. And Forrest starts to learn about his habitat mates, too.

Forrest - New Black Rhino

Video of Forrest shortly after his arrival at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in 2016

Currently Cleveland has three black rhinos: Inge, Kibibbi and Forrest. Inge arrived in Cleveland in 1997 from South Africa. She and another female were brought to the United States for two important reasons: to improve the genetic mix of the captive population and to protect her from poaching in her native country.

Black rhinos are critically endangered in the wild, and the population has declined an estimated 97% since 1960, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their biggest threat is poachers, who hunt rhinos for their horns, which are falsely believed to have a medicinal purpose. Sustaining a healthy and thriving population of rhinos in zoos helps educate visitors about the need to protect this species in the wild.

Inge has delivered four female calves since her arrival and all have since been transported to other zoos to continue the SSP breeding recommendations. Kibibbi is Inge’s daughter.

“We’ve had wonderful, healthy babies and moms who know instinctively what to do. We’ve been very successful and very, very lucky,” said keeper Alisa Sandor.

Sandor has witnessed all of Inge’s births and is now working to help Forrest adjust to his new surroundings.

After his quarantine period, Forrest is slowly introduced to Inge, with the first step familiar to any pet owner: The two rhinos are kept in separate yards with a fence in between so they can sniff each other and vocalize. Sometimes they scrape their feet or dig their snouts under the fence, all in the interest of curiosity.

Eventually Inge and Forrest are trained to move past each other in holding, and then they are given access to the same yard at the same time. And then another kind of waiting begins: to see if breeding will be successful.

This story originally published in winter 2016 Z Magazine.

UPDATE: In April 2017, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo announced that Forrest had, indeed, succeeded in breeding with one of the female rhinos. Kibbibi is expecting a calf. The pregnancy was confirmed by ultrasound in January and the new calf is expected to arrive early Spring 2018.

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Kibibbi is pregnant and due to give birth Spring 2018

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