It’s a girl. And it’s a girl whose birth marks quite an accomplishment of modern science.
The Buffalo Zoo’s newborn Indian rhino, Monica is the first in the world to be born after artificial insemination.
Her mother, Tashi, gave birth to Monica on June 5. For the Buffalo and Cincinnati team that worked together, Monica represents a major victory in preserving the endangered species.
But Tashi’s just happy because she finally has a little baby around again.
“She is a great mother,” said Joe Hauser, the Buffalo Zoo’s head rhino keeper, who spearheaded the plan. “She does not let the calf out of her sight. She lets her nurse whenever she wants to nurse, if she’s standing up, laying down. She’ll make sure she’s always in a safe place.”
Tashi, a 17-year-old Indian rhino, is about 4,200 pounds and 5ø feet tall. Around Monica, she watches her every step. When she touches the calf, she’s gentle and careful.
Tashi was separated from her first two babies, who she birthed in 2004 and 2008, when they were sent to different zoos.
After Tashi’s first mate passed away in 2011, Hauser knew he had to find a way to keep her breeding. If he didn’t, she’ would likely develop a cyst that would prevent natural breeding.
And if he waited until the Buffalo Zoo’s new male Indian rhino reached sexual maturity, it would be too late.
So Hauser teamed up with Dr. Monica Stoops, the reproductive physiologist at the Cincinnati Zoo, who specializes in the Indian rhino species, and the Buffalo Zoo’s veterinarian Dr. Kurt Volle.
Stoops took eight-hour drives to and from Buffalo often, and together the team prepared Tashi for insemination, executed the procedure and monitored her throughout a 16-month gestation.
Monica was weighed in at 144 pounds at birth. Hauser and the Buffalo team named her after Stoops.
Monica’s father, Jimmy, died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2004. Since then, the zoo has stored his sperm.
The team hopes that artificial insemination will help reverse the rapid decline in rhinos.
There are now five remaining rhino species, all of which are endangered, and only 2,000 Indian rhinos are left in the wild.
Tashi’s horn, large and high from between her eyes, is one of the Indian rhino’s best known features and the reason the species is in trouble. Indian rhinos are being illegally shot and killed, just for those horns.
“It’s thought that their rhino horn has medicinal purposes, like cures cancer and makes you live longer,” Hauser said. “But it’s scientifically proven that the rhino horn does nothing.”
“[Monica’s] father passed away 10 years ago now, and we actually get to bring his genetics back into the line,” Hauser said. “So that is the biggest thing with this artificial insemination, that her father never sired a calf before and now, 10 years later that he’s been passed away, we can actually still breed him.”
Visitors to the zoo will not be able to see Tashi and Monica for several weeks. Hauser is waiting until the week-old calf is strong and ready to navigate the hilly and muddy terrain in the exhibit.
For now, Tashi seems content sleeping next to Monica and letting the calf roll around in the hay.