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A calf is born: Lee Richardson Zoo has a new black rhino baby

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Lee Richardson Zoo is celebrating the birth of a baby black rhinocerous. The calf was born on Jan. 20.

The Lee Richardson Zoo has a new eastern black rhinoceros calf.

Kristi Newland, director of the Lee Richardson Zoo, said they have been working with black rhinos for about 35 years, but this is the zoo's first calf and the first breeding pair.

For a number of years the zoo had a male named Howdy.

The zoo's current male, Jabari, and female, Johari have been at the LRZ since 2016, Newland said. Jabarai was 3 when he came to the LRZ from Atlanta and Johari was 6 when she came from Cleveland.

Newland said the plan has always been to breed the two.

They were identified by the Species Survival Plan, a collective management group through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the accrediting association for zoos and aquariums in the United States and some in Canada. Newland said the AZA is the gold standard internationally for animals care.

"They were identified as two animals that if they put together ... their baby would contribute to the genetic health of the population," she said.

In the wild, as of 2018, there are about 740 eastern black rhinoceros left, Newland said. If you include all black rhinos, there are more, but that's if you combine all subspecies.

Poaching and habitat loss are why the animals are critically endangered, Newland said.

The AZA has about 60 black rhinos at 25 of its 240 accredited facilities.

Breeding in captivity is a balancing act between having quality space, having a good place to house the animals and the need to keep the population genetically and demographically healthy.

"Not everybody can be breeding, either genetically or they're too young or whatever, but you have to have room," she said. "You never want to be making babies when you don't have a good place to send it."

Newland said another reason for breeding is to keep the population healthy, or to at least contribute to the population of the species as a whole.

"Whether animals can ever get reintroduced out into the wild, if they can we would like to be able to have them to send there if that works," she said. "The problem is the wild is shrinking, so as best we can we'd like to keep the species around."

Lee Richardson Zoo is holding a naming contest for its new black rhino calf, born Jan. 20.

While zoos started out by taking animals from the wild most zoo animals are born at zoos or come from other zoos, Newland said.

"We try to maintain a healthy, sustainable population so we don't have to take to the wild," she said. "Sometimes if the AZA population needs a bloodline, needs and injection of fresh blood, we get it from the European zoos, we don't go to the wild."

Newland said they want to keep animals in the wild.

"Part of that is again is why these guys are here to act as ambassadors for their counter parts in the wild," she said.

Zoos' focus nowadays is conservation, Newland said.

"We're about connecting people with animals through conservation and engagement and education," she said. "We're just trying to share all the reasons for why we should help keep what's wild, wild, wildlife in wild places."

Newland said it means a lot to have a breeding pair and now to have a calf.

Having a rhino at the zoo helps endear people to rhinos and their situation, Newland said.

"For a number of years we had a single male, that was how we were contributing to the health of the population, by housing Howdy ... and getting people involved by having them meet Howdy," she said. "If we can do that, get people interested in black rhinos whether it's with Howdy or Jabari and Johari or now the little guy, that's part of our role. If they appreciate them here, hopefully they'll help them in the wild."

The new calf, a male, was born on Jan. 20 and Newland said everyone at the zoo was walking on air when it happened.

Donna Wohler, administrative assistant at the LRZ, said it was exciting. She was the first person to see evidence that Johari was to giving birth on that day.

"There's a camera that I can see on my computer screen and she was looking agitated and moving around and then there was feet, there was something coming out. It didn't take very long," she said. "It was very exciting, it was not quite expected that he would be born quite yet, but then there he was."

The new calf was Johari's first, Newland said. She's doing wonderful as a mother.

"(She's doing) marvelous, you would never know it was her first one," she said. "She took to it very well, very calm."

Newland said Johari's been a calm rhino ever since she arrived in 2016.

"Between the two of them, of course he was only 3 and she was 6, she just always seemed more worldly, nothing phased her too much, whereas Jabari, it was his first time away from mom when he came, he was a little more skittish, a little more reactive to things," she said. 

More:LRZ welcomes baby rhino to zoo family

Now that the new calf is here, zoo staff are monitoring them closely and providing mom and baby with an environment that's best for them, Newland said. The environment includes a lot of bedding, hay, so that it gives the calf something to help him from sliding all over."

The LRZ is also in contact with the SSP coordinator who has more experience with rhino calfs, Newland said. Their goal is to continue providing quality animal care and welfare.

The new calf will come out in public when the weather is right and they're sure he's moving around well, Newland said.

"Johari and the baby we need temperatures to be right, but we also need them to be comfortably moving around reliably so we know the kiddo will come in," she said. "There is not a set date, they'll tell us what to do."

The zoo is asking for help in naming the new calf. People can stop by the Finnup Center for Conservation Education at the zoo or visit the LRZ's Facebook page or YouTube channel to help select the name from the options chosen by zoo staff.

The options are Ayubu, which means perseverance during difficult times; Faru, which means tank; Mkali, which means fierce; and Moto, which means heart.