Artificial Insemination in a White Rhino
Makoubou is a 15-year old Southern white rhino at Whipsnade Zoo who is not cycling; a common problem found in white rhinos in captivity, especially when they are housed with their mother. Southern white rhinos are a major breeding species at Whipsnade Zoo, with 55 calves born since 1970. As a healthy female of breeding age, it was decided to attempt a pregnancy via artificial insemination.
Prior to the procedure, Makoubou received hormone therapy for two months, to allow a normal follicle to grow. An ultrasound 5 days before the expected insemination date confirmed that a normal follicle had developed.
On the day of the procedure, our male rhino Nsiswa had an anaesthetic to electro-ejaculate him to obtain semen. The procedure was successful, and we managed to collect a sample of high quality semen which was processed and kept secure until the procedure on Makoubou could begin.
Makoubou was put under general anaesthetic and given another ultrasound, which showed a pre-ovulatory follicle. An injection was then given to Makoubou to stimulate this follicle into ovulation. A team of animal reproductive experts from IZW in Berlin than had to inseminate her with specially developed equipment for rhinos. The attempt was successful and an ultrasound confirmed the presence of semen in the uterus.
We are currently collecting twice weekly faecal samples for 80 days to see whether Makoubou is pregnant. These samples are sent to a dedicated laboratory in Austria for analysis.
This case shows how important it is for European zoos to work together closely to achieve breeding success. The ZSL veterinary team was in charge of the anaesthetic procedures and ultrascanning, while a specialist team from Germany performed the electro-ejaculation and insemination. A third team in Austria are still working with us to determine if Makoubou is pregnant.