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SOS Rhino : In the News: : Articles : SUMATRAN RHINO BIRTH IN 1889

It is probably an understatement to say that a Sumatran rhinoceros born in a zoo is nothing short of a sensation, even a miracle. Only five captive births have ever been recorded and three of those were by mothers who were bred in the wild. Three of these births occurred in the 19th century, one in the 20th and one in the 21st.

There was a curious announcement in an English daily newspaper sold in Calcutta, India, on 31 January 1889, in the section of notable births:

"Rhinoceros - At the Zoological Garden, Alipore, on the 30th January, Rhinoceros Lasiotis, the wife of Rhinoceros Sumatrensis, of Caboul, of a son".

Most readers would have blinked their eyes on reading this. Alipore, of course, is the part of Calcutta where the zoo is located. The names of the animals need to be explained.

In June 1882, the zoo imported three Sumatran rhinos, one of which soon died. There remained a female which was caught in Chittagong, now in Bangladesh, and a male from Malaysia. At that time it was common to separate the two-horned rhinoceros in species, one called sumatrensis (in Malaysia, Thailand, Burma), the other called lasiotis (in India). The baby, therefore, was considered a hybrid. The addition of Caboul is explained by the fact that the male was sold a couple of months before the birth to a ruler in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The birth itself was quick and easy, as described by the Superintendent of the Zoo, R.B. Sanyal:

On the evening of the 29th January the female was noticed to be somewhat restless; she refused her usual rations of gram, bran and salt, though every now and then she browsed some leaves and branches. Early next morning, she was in acute labour pain, very restless, and after intense suffering of nearly an hour, she suddenly got up and the young one was born.=

At first the mother took no notice of her calf and the baby had to be given milk from a bottle. However, during the night he began sucking from the mother and soon he was lively and playful, inclined to explore the enclosure. The baby grew up well and lived in the zoo for at least twenty-five years, being the third on the list of longest-lived captive Sumatran rhinos.

Dr Kees Rookmaaker


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