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SOS Rhino : In the News : Zoo couple expecting, a good sign for endangered rhinoceros
 

Zoo couple expecting, a good sign for endangered rhinoceros

  By TOM BUCKHAM
Buffalo News
News Staff Reporter
7/20/2004

Tashi, a rare Indian rhinoceros who is expecting this fall, takes a dip Monday at the Buffalo Zoo. The baby rhinoceros will be a first for the zoo, where Tashi and Hank successfully mated last year.

Apparently, all it took was a whistle from Tashi to get Hank interested.

The male one-horned greater Indian rhinoceros made tracks to the female's side of the Buffalo Zoo rhino yard without the help of special rubber boots that were on order to make mating easier for the big guy.

As a result, the birth of the rare pair's first baby is expected early this fall, after a 16-month gestation period. It would be a first for the zoo and a good omen for the greater Indian rhino, one of the world's most endangered animals.

Last September, the zoo tried to fit Hank's surgically repaired hind feet with a pair of custom-made rubber boots donated by Pirelli Tire Co. The idea was to correct a problem common to captive male Indian rhinos: the bottoms of the rear feet tend to develop cracks, making it difficult for them to walk, let alone mate.

Despite the best efforts of veterinarian Frank Ridgley's team, 4,000-pound Hank was unable to gain traction on the slippery floor of the rhino house and soon gave his therapeutic footwear the boot.

Zoo leaders were afraid Hank's defective soles might stand in the way of establishing a breeding program for this vanishing species.

Because of poaching and loss of habitat, the population in the wild dwindled to 600 in 1975. Conservation measures have helped the population rebound to about 2,400. But poaching remains a threat because the animal's single horn is prized in Oriental medicine; an ounce sells for about $60,000 on the black market.

Thus the world's zoos are under a mandate to grow the captive population from the current total of 135, which includes Hank and Tashi.

What no one knew at the time of the failed boot experiment is that Hank had already furthered the cause. Tashi, having employed the old female rhino trick of whistling when ready to mate, was pregnant.

The blessed event will be one of the zoo's most highly anticipated births in quite some time. Baby rhinos weigh in at about 120 pounds and stay with the mother for about three years.

Because males are territorial, and the huge beasts tend to treat each other roughly, Hank and Tashi - with her baby - will continue to live on opposite sides of the heavy fence dividing the rhino yard until Tashi whistles that seductive whistle again sometime early next year.



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