Southern white rhino conceived artificially is born at Safari Park

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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Zoo Monday announced the arrival of a southern white rhino calf at the zoo’s Safari Park, the first of the species to be born through artificial insemination in North America.

The healthy male calf was born on Sunday. Animal care staff helped his mother, Victoria, conceive in March 2018 through hormone-induced ovulation and artificial insemination, which has seldom been successful for southern white rhinos.

Victoria and her calf are currently bonding well in a secluded nursing area of the Safari Park, zoo officials said. The calf is the 99th southern white rhino born at the Safari Park.

“All of us at San Diego Zoo Global are elated with the arrival of this special rhino calf,” said Barbara Durrant, the zoo’s director of reproductive sciences. “We are so pleased Victoria and the calf are doing well. She is very attentive to her baby, and the calf is up and walking, and nursing frequently.”

In addition to the historical significance of the calf’s conception, its birth also represents a step toward the zoo’s longer-term goal of recovering the northern white rhino, a distant relative of the southern white rhino. Currently, only two northern white rhinos still exist on the planet and both are female.

Zoo officials aim to use stem cells and preserved northern white rhino cells to birth a northern white rhino calf within 10-20 years. The zoo’s southern white rhinos would serve as surrogates for the northern white rhino embryos through artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization or an embryo transfer.

If the plan proves successful, researchers could attempt similar assisted reproduction techniques with the critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

Victoria and the calf are expected to remain secluded indefinitely to allow them to bond before the calf is introduced to the other rhinos at the Safari Park’s Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center, according to zoo officials.

The Safari Park is expecting a second southern white rhino birth in September or October. The zoo announced that calf’s conception through artificial insemination last September.

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