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SOS Rhino : In the News : Bundles of joy
 

Bundles of joy

  08/22/03
Fran Henry
Plain Dealer Reporter

All together now: Awwwwwwww.

According to a particularly unscientific poll, that's the usual response to news that the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has been blessed with a baby boom in the African savanna. From Our Advertiser

It began slowly, with the March 26 birth of a male bontebok, a kind of antelope; the April 26 arrival of two male slender-horned gazelles; and a female zebra born May 24.

But as spring turned to summer, the stork worked overtime to deliver two more slender-horned gazelles July 12, one of which died; a female black rhinoceros Aug. 2; a female giraffe Aug. 6; and a male zebra Aug. 10.

"All the births went well," said Alan Sironen, zoo curator of mammology. "That's what we prayed for."

Although all zoo births are important, these new arrivals were particularly welcome.

That's because, except the zebras, they belong to rare and endangered species, Sironen said.

They were conceived according to species survival plans and population management plans, which are coordinated by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

The idea is to avoid overpopulation and promote healthy genetics.

Although about 90 percent of zoo animals are born in captivity, an occasional wild animal is brought into the population to introduce a new genetic line, to avoid the medical problems caused by excessive inbreeding among captive stock.

The new rhino is especially significant, Sironen said, because the world's black rhino population has dropped precipitously since the early 1970s, when about 65,000 roamed in Kenya and Tanzania.

Overhunting of rhino, spurred by demand for rhino horn in traditional African medicine, diminished the population to about 2,500 a few years ago. However, the number has climbed back to about 3,100 as natives have learned to make a living other than selling rhino horn, Allen said.

The newborns were briefly separated from their mothers for weigh-ins, sexing and tagging. All the zoo's nearly 3,000 creatures on display - except for its insects - are marked with some form of identification, including tattoos, tags, leg bands, ear notches or electronic implants.

The labors were astonishingly short, some of the pregnancies heartbreakingly long. The rhino baby, for example, gestated 15 months and was born after her mother, 3,000-pound Inge, labored only 75 minutes.

Savannah, the giraffe, was born after her mother, Nova, ended her 12-month pregnancy with a two-hour labor.

The long pregnancies gave zookeepers plenty of time to prepare for the births. The giraffe's birthing room was filled with sand to cushion the baby's arrival. Mother giraffes deliver standing up, so the baby enters the world with a six-foot fall.

The rhino's indoor quarters were baby-proofed with higher fencing to keep the curious newborn safely enclosed. The holes in their outdoor fields were filled, the pool's water level lowered, and baby-level branches trimmed.

Aside from the rhino and the youngest gazelle - a leggy 5-pound orphan being bottle-fed by a crew of keepers - the babies are already delighting zoo guests. The baby rhino, a supercharged 144-pound bundle of energy, will be able to join the flock next weekend.

Meanwhile, a Web cam is being installed in the rhino nursery so the online audience can enjoy her toddlerlike antics, too. The Web cam is expected to go online tomorrow at www.Cleveland.com, said zoo publicist Sue Allen.

So you don't even have to go to the zoo to say awwwwwwww.