Southern White Rhino Breeding
At the beginning of the 20th Century, there were as few as 30-100 wild white rhinos left in existence. This dire situation was largely a result of poaching, and stimulated international efforts to manage the remaining wild rhinos intensively and to create a healthy captive population that could act as a safety net for the species. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is one of the organisations taking part in this important work.
We have had great success with these magnificent animals at Whipsnade. We have the best breeding record of any European Zoo, with 56 births since 1970. One of the latest arrivals was a male calf born in 2007, weighing 45-50kg after a 500-day gestation period (see him in the video below).
Our breeding herd now has 6 rhinos: one male Nsiswa and a bevy of females, Tootsie, Mikumi, Tuli, Clara and Nowana. Our breeding success is likely due to the expert husbandry knowledge of the Whipsnade keepers.
No Small Feat
Keeping and breeding rhinos is a tricky business. When the zoo population was assessed in 2007, as part of EEP management, only 26% of the original wild rhinos imported in the 1950’s had bred, and a third of the zoo population was over 35 years old. This suggested that something was wrong with the way the EEP was being managed. More rhinos were imported from South Africa, where management efforts had had a very positive effect on wild rhino numbers, and changes were made to the way the EEP was run.
One problem was that white rhino are very social animals and only breed if kept socially. Since white rhinos are such large animals, keeping larger groups means that only a few zoos are capable of breeding them.
Another factor is that females born into a group do not ovulate if their mothers are present, and therefore don’t breed. Animals are being exchanged between zoos much more frequently to stop mother-daughter pairs in herds. We have also used artificial insemination in some of our females, aided by expert vets from collaborating zoos, to cause more pregnancies. Find out more about this rhino veterinary work .
Females come into oestrous every 28 days and are receptive to males for 1-2 days. Courtship can be a little rough, with the male chasing and hooking the female with his horn around her back legs until she stands for him. When a birth is due, the mother is split off overnight and can be re-introduced back into the group with the calf after a few days if the weather is good.