Whipsnade's white rhino births are scientific breakthrough
Thursday 25 May 2000
WHIPSNADE WILD ANIMAL PARK ANNOUNCES SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH WITH BIRTH OF TWO WHITE RHINOS
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has made history with its two latest arrivals at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park. For the first time, ZSL’s scientists, vets and keepers were able to successfully predict the births of the two endangered white rhinos using state of the art science.
Prior to this research, very little was known about the reproductive status of the rhino. The monitoring is invaluable in allowing zoos to plan ahead for the births of the calves as part of their breeding programmes and to maintain the safety of the mother and calf throughout the pregnancy term (15 months). It is hoped that further research will allow the technique to be applied to the study of white rhino in their natural habitat to gain a greater understanding of their biology and help ensure the long-term survival of the species.
Faecal samples were collected from the females approximately 2-3 times per week for up to 6 months. In the laboratory, the samples were dried in an oven, crushed up and then sieved to separate the faecal powder from undigested vegetation. The hormones which circulate around the animals’ body and control reproductive processes are modified before being excreted in faeces, urine and saliva. By measuring the quantity of these modified hormones in the faeces, scientists from ZSL were able to track the reproductive activity of each rhino over a period of time.
Previously, reproductive monitoring has been attempted using urine samples, but due to logistical problems, this proved impossible to maintain an accurate programme.
Based on previous knowledge of the species, scientists were able to analyse the extracts of faeces for a specific hormone metabolite, which would provide accurate information about the reproductive activity of females.
The reproductive test relies on a specific, quantifiable interaction between the hormone metabolite in the faeces and an antibody which has been designed to bind to it. The outcome is a colour change, the intensity of which depends on the amount of hormone metabolite present. By studying changes in hormone metabolite concentration in successive samples, scientists are able to plot a profile of the reproductive activity of each animal and predict whether she is receptive to being mated, or pregnant, or suffering from some reproductive abnormalities.
"This is really quite a breakthrough for us," commented Dr. Amanda Pickard of ZSL. "The birth of the two white rhinos proves testament to the monitoring programme developed by ZSL and used so successfully at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park to help plan for their arrivals."
"The ability to monitor reproduction in endangered species is a vitally important contribution to conservation and we aim to continue developing new, advanced techniques in the future to help captive and field-based conservation programmes.
"This confirmation that our tests are accurate and reliable will allow us to undertake further studies which may help us to understand the causes of infertility in some white rhino and hopefully ensure the long-term survival of this species."
Notes to Editors:
- White rhino’s are endangered in the wild, due to the species being threatened by poaching and habitat loss.
- Photocall will be held at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park on Thursday 25 May at 10.30am.
- The calves have not yet been named, but visitors to the Whipsnade Summer Open Evening on Wednesday 28th June will be offered the unique opportunity to enter a competition to name a baby rhino and adopt it for a year (Ticket hotline: 0990 200123).
- Whipsnade Wild Animal Park is currently the focus of a T.V. documentary, shown on Anglia T.V. at 7.30pm every Thursday. Now in its second series 'Whipsnade' takes viewers on a behind–the-scenes tour of life at the Park.
For further information / photography, please contact:
Susan Wilks / Amy Hayward
Telephone: 020 7881 3232
Whipsnade Wild Animal Park
Telephone: 01582 872 171
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