By CLAUDIA DREIFUS
December 25, 2001
CINCINNATI When an 11-year- old Sumatran rhinoceros named
Emi gave birth to a pudgy, sloe-eyed calf at the Cincinnati Zoo
and Botanical Garden on Sept. 13, biological scientists worldwide
The calf, a male, was named Andalas, after the original name of
the island of Sumatra, the largest island of Indonesia.
About 300 Sumatran rhinoceroses still live in the forests there
and in Malaysia; 16 more are scattered in zoos and refuges.
But until scientists at the Cincinnati Zoo bred Emi to Ipuh here,
the future of this rare and ancient species seemed bleak. Andalas
was the first Sumatran rhino to be born and bred in captivity in
more than 100 years, and soon after his birth, news agencies were
distributing his baby pictures around the world.
Several weeks after his birth, Dr. Terri Roth, the vice president
for animal sciences at the Cincinnati Zoo who has made a career
of breeding endangered creatures, sat in her office on the zoo grounds
and discussed Andalas's significance to science.
Dr. Roth had supervised the mating of Emi and Ipuh and had managed
the scientific aspects of the baby's birth. "There are no how-to
books on how to breed an endangered species," Dr. Roth, 37,
said. "It was a lot of experimentation and a lot of trial and
Q. We both spent some time watching Andalas and his mom canter
around their living area. When you see these two creatures playing
together, what do you feel?
A. It's a little hard to believe he's here. I've been working on
this for years and years. We had all these disappointments. Before
Andalas, Emi lost five pregnancies.
This past summer was so stressful. Emi was coming closer and closer
to term, but many things could have gone wrong. The biggest relief
for me was when we were watching Emi give birth. I could see, even
before he was fully out of her, that the calf was moving. It was
a tremendous relief.
In fact, everything about the birth, which happened two days after
the World Trade Center bombing, has been a gift. Emi's been an excellent
mother. She might have not known what to do. She could have had
not enough milk. It's a little hard to believe that the calf is
thriving and jumping around and is perfect.
Q. Why are Sumatran rhinos in such grave danger?
A. Habitat destruction. Poaching. The two small horns of the Sumatran
rhino are considered to have medicinal properties in some cultures.
There's a black market for them.
Q. What are the Sumatran rhinos like in the wild?
A. Very solitary. They spend most of their day keeping themselves
cool in mud wallows, and the rest, browsing for twigs and fruits.
Their solitary nature is part of what has made breeding them in
captivity so difficult. Except for the moments when they breed,
they don't spend time together. If you put them together at the
wrong time, they can get aggressive and injure each other.
Q. Tell us a little about the rhino parents.
A. Emi's a very happy-go-lucky individual. She's very tolerant,
curious, playful. She seems like she's having a good time. Ipuh
is temperamental. He has his moods. Emi likes company. Ipuh couldn't
care less. Both of them are wild born. They were captured in an
area that was about to be logged. So these are animals that would
have been doomed.
Q. So how did you get Emi and Ipuh to actually breed?
A. The key was in discovering a previously unknown fact: that Sumatran
rhinos are induced ovulators, which means that the females only
ovulate after they've bred. Most animals breed before or near the
time of ovulation.
It took me eight months to figure this out. I kept trying to track
Emi's reproductive cycle and introduce her to Ipuh at a time that
I thought they'd mate. I was always wrong.
Finally, we tried something else. We introduced the animals on
a daily basis, but just for a short period of time, and under constant
surveillance. By doing that, we came to a time when they did mate.
And after that, I examined her and she had ovulated. It was the
first time I'd seen her ovulate. So then we could look at her hormone
levels. By this method, we figured out when she'd be receptive and
get her together with Ipuh at the best moment.
Q. With five failed pregnancies, it seems fortunate that Emi and
Ipuh have had an affinity for each other.
A. I wouldn't say that's true. I'd say they have an affinity for
each other if they are put together at the right moment.
Q. Emi got pregnant after her second mating with Ipuh, but she
miscarried. Did that and her four later miscarriages frustrate you?
A. I felt sick to my stomach each time. We detect the pregnancy
through ultrasound. I'm the one who detects it. And after each miscarriage,
I'd have to tell people who'd invested decades in trying to save
this species what had happened. They'd want answers, and often I
didn't have them.
Q. You gave Emi regular sonograms. How does one give a 1,700- pound
creature a sonogram? Are you going to say, "Very carefully"?
A. We actually condition the animals to walk into a chute, and
then we close the door behind them. It's a rectal exam. You put
a long glove on, and you take probe and you slide it right along
the bottom of the rectum. She gets fed the whole time and she loves
her food apples and bananas. Most rhinos are very tolerant
Q. In the five failed pregnancies, how far into her 16-month term
did Emi get?
A. Never more than three months. With this last pregnancy, we changed
the regimen by giving her the hormone progesterone. We knew that
progesterone had been used to sustain pregnancy in mares and that
it had even been used with some black rhinos. We still have no proof
that this is what made the difference.
In working with some of these relatively unknown species, you really
have to be a comparative biologist. The data isn't out there. You
have to think, Well, the rhino might not be quite like a horse or
a cow, but maybe it's more like a camel. You have to pull information
together from all these different species.
Q. How did you get into this work?
A. I've always loved animals. As a young girl, I never wanted to
play with dolls. I grew up on a small farm in California, and I
came home with snakes, toads, lizards and whatever I could catch.
I always said, "I'm going to work in a zoo." I went to
the University of California at Davis and started to major in genetics
and didn't like it. I wanted to breed animals. I realized reproductive
physiology was what I enjoyed. I love the challenge of research
for a noble cause. Everything I do has an application for helping
the various species survive.
Q. With only about 300 Sumatran rhinos left, is it possible to
bring them back from the brink of extinction?
A. Absolutely. And there are examples of other species that dwindled
down to close to 20 animals and they were brought back. If you look
at the bison, the black footed ferret, the Arabian oryx, even the
Wyoming toad, they've come back. People sometimes ask, "When
do you give up?" I don't think you ever do until they're gone.
Zoos can play a big role. We are always breeding animals with the
idea of returning them to their natural environment. With the Sumatran
rhino, there is land in Malaysia where they could go, if the numbers
get high enough. For our part here, we will continue to monitor
Emi, find out when her reproductive cycle begins again and start
thinking about breeding her as soon as possible. She's young and
healthy and she should be able produce numerous calves