A new space for rhinos
For many years, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has been home to several Eastern black rhinos, and 2018 was no exception.
Last year, the Zoo celebrated two rhino births. Lulu, born in February, was the sixth Eastern black rhino calf born at the Zoo, and the second calf born to Kibibbi. A few months later, along came Nia, born in August to mom Inge, who has a long history of breeding success in Cleveland. Kibibbi, in fact, is her daughter and one of seven rhinos born to Inge.
The births almost doubled the size of the Zoo’s herd, and drew guests throughout the summer as Lulu explored the habitat for the first time —and then looked massive next to the younger Nia. Already a guest favorite, the calves and the crowds they drew highlighted the need for more space for rhinos.
Today, Lulu and Nia are continuing to grow healthy and strong, with their mothers by their sides. Lulu is now 1.5 years old, weighing about 1,200 pounds. She’s about half the size of mom, Kibbibi, after just one year of life! Nia is nine months old and weighs about 650 pounds. Rhino calves are born without horns, but both calves now have significant growth of their horns.
Both calves are still very much glued to their mother’s sides, only venturing away now and again to explore the exhibit. Lulu and Nia get along well together, minding their business most of the time and occasionally sparing or “playing” with one another.
Both calves are still nursing from their moms, only now they have to lay down beneath them in order to nurse due to their size. This is very normal behavior of rhino calves in the wild. “They often don’t leave their moms until they are at least two years old,” said Cleveland Metroparks Zoo curator Travis Vineyard, “Even then, rhino mother’s will always be very protective of their calves.”
The Zoo animal care staff is consistently working with the calves to further their enrichment and development process. Right now, they are focusing on the socialization of the animals and getting all of the rhinos used to sharing the same space.
In the wild, rhinos typically live solitary lives. Like most mammals, males come around only for breeding purposes and circle around from time to time when the calf is young.
The Zoo’s lone male rhino, Forrest, fathered both Lulu and Naia. After the calves are born, his role is essentially complete. “In the wild, he would not be here anymore,” said Cleveland Metroparks Zoo keeper, Claire Winkle, “Male rhinos go out on their own and only come together for mating purposes.”
Because of this, the constant presence of Forrest – and the other females – has both moms constantly feeling protective over their young. The two moms and calves are learning to function as a unique herd of four,with the moms only becoming frustrated with each other now and again. The calves appear to be impartial to any form of irritation, said Vineyard, and respond in accordance with the reaction of their mom.
When it comes to Forrest, he is not creating problems or showing any signs of frustrations. The mothers are giving him signs and vocalizing that he shouldn’t be around them, much like they would do in the wild if a male approached. As a result, Forrest is kept separate from the moms and calves most times, however, his presence is still very much felt by the females.
The success that Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has seen in breeding eastern black rhinos has demonstrated its ability to be a sustainable program that is contributing to the rhino population in all Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) facilities, said Vineyard.
The Zoo carries out its breeding procedures based on recommendations from the Species Survival Program (SSP). 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. The births of Lulu and Nia were recommended by the SSP for rhinos.
In May, plans for a significant expansion to the rhino habitat were announced. The expansion will include a second rhino yard and a separate bull barn for Forrest – giving him the space he needs from the females. It will also feature more overhead shading, misting areas, a mud wallow, vegetation and rubbing posts for the rhinos. Included in the expansion is a significantly larger viewing area that will be accessible to guests with all disabilities.
“This expansion will better equip us to care for our rhino herd as we work to protect one of the world’s most critically endangered species,” said Dr. Christopher Kuhar, Executive Director of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
The new rhino yard and additional barn will replace Monkey Island. The Colobus monkeys were moved to a nearby exhibit that will give them more climbing opportunities.
The rhino yard expansion will be jointly funded by the Zoo and the Cleveland Zoological Society. Since 2011, the Zoo and Zoo Society have invested $35 million in larger, more complex habitats, including African Elephant Crossing, Rosebrough Tiger Passage and most recently, Asian Highlands.
This new habitat will create a space that is better for the animals in Cleveland, and for the continuation of successful breeding that helps the population as a whole.
“With proven expertise in black rhino husbandry, additional space to manage social dynamics is a key element for current and future successes,” says Vineyard, “The expansion of the rhino facilities is really an affirmation of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s contribution to species sustainability.”
Construction for the new exhibit begins this fall and is expected to be completed in the spring, just in time for the busy season of summer. Be sure to catch Lulu and Nia now, and then see how much a difference it makes when they have new space to roam in 2020!
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