Greater One Horned Rhino Breeding
Threatened in the wild by poachers, invasive plants and habitat degradation, the greater one-horned rhino is critically endangered, and fewer than 3000 exist in the wild. ZSL is carrying out comprehensive conservation work in Nepal to try to stabilise the dwindling population of these magnificent animals.
A vital part of this work is maintaining a breeding population of captive rhinos that can act as a ‘safety net’ for the wild populations. At ZSL’s Whipsnade Zoo, we have breeding group of greater one horned rhinos (also called the Indian rhino). We were the second zoo ever to breed these animals in 1957.
We currently have two breeding females in our group, Behin and Beluki, who have bred fantastically, producing 4 calves within 4 years. A new male called Hugo arrived from Poland in 2008. He fathered a calf called Ajang with Behin, and a calf called Karamat with Beluki, both born in 2010. We hope to get them to breed again soon.
Rhino need to be moved between zoos to keep them breeding as much as possible. Behin's previous daughter, Asha, has now been moved to Chester Zoo to join
their breeding programme, and Beluki's previous son Rap from 2007 was moved to a park in the West Midlands. The father of Asha and Rap was a male, Jaffna, borrowed from Basle Zoo, who has now been returned there.
Getting a female rhino pregnant is not an easy thing to do. Females are only receptive for about 24-48 hours, so having a suitable male available at the right time is crucial. We keep an eye on proceedings because males can sometimes be rather aggressive with females, and it can be a long day for staff before the pair to gettogether. When mating does happen, however, it lasts for around one and a half hours.
A rhino birth at Whipsnade is a big event. Females about to give birth are closely monitored through CCTV to check that all is well without having to disturb them. Staff also need to
make sure that the new mother is looking after her offspring well, such as nursing them. Behin was a very good mother to Ajang, and needed no help at all. Calves usually remain with their mothers for about 2 years.
While every birth is a happy event, it is also a reminder of the dire straits of this species in the wild. Every new rhino born is a very significant addition to the tiny remaining population.
Though our animals might never make it back to Nepal themselves, rhinos like Ajang and Asha act as ambassadors to our visitors, reminders of the terrible plight of the Greater one horned rhino in the wild.