Rhinoceros Mating is Anything But Romantic in the Wild or at the Pittsburgh Zoo

Wed, 11/4/2009 - 4:01 PM

By Tracy Gray

Pittsburgh, PA - Is romance in the air at the Pittsburgh Zoo’s rhinoceros yard as 10-year-old Azzizi and 14-year-old Jomo get in the mood to mate? “Probably not because rhinoceros mating is anything but romantic in the wild or in zoos,” says Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “When in the mood, rhinos are very aggressive toward one another. They will roar, chase, and even hit each other before they actually mate. The entire breeding event can last anywhere from two to three hours and can sometimes be violent.”

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium received a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Plan to breed our rhinos. “Blood tests showed that Azzizi was cycling regularly so our next step was to perform an ultrasound to determine if she was able to reproduce,” says Dr. Baker. “Zoo vet staff and Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt, Head of the research group in the Reproduction Management Department at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, performed an ultrasound and the results showed Azzizi can reproduce.” Since the actual mating is rough, as a precaution, the Zoo staff began giving Azzizi vitamin E shots to help alleviate any muscle soreness. Now it is a waiting game as keepers watch the pair looking for signs of growing interest. Keepers know that Azzizi will be entering another breeding cycle the week of November 2, but unfortunately keepers can’t just schedule a day ahead of time for them to breed, it will all depend on them and a decision to put them together will be made that morning.

Since this is the first time that Azzizi and Jomo will be in the same space together to mate, keepers aren’t sure exactly how it will go. Because the rhinos need space to display their affections for one another, such as chasing, biting, roaring, and even biting and hitting each other, keepers and vet staff felt the outside yard would offer more room and safety than their behind-the-scenes home. If it appears that one is more ready than the other and too aggressive, keepers will make a decision on whether to separate them. “It is tough to explain exactly what will be going on but we do know that during the mating ritual, their behavior is totally different from anything we have seen before or that our visitors have seen or heard,” says Dr. Baker. “There will be Zoo staff on hand to explain rhino behavior and we will block off areas around the rhino exhibit.

The birth of a rhino will be a significant event here at the Pittsburgh Zoo because it has been close to 30 years since the last birth occurred. If Jomo and Azzizi mate successfully and tests show that Azzizi is pregnant, gestation is 15 months so Azzizi would likely give birth in January 2011. If mating doesn’t occur this time, keepers say they will let them try again.

Rhino Facts:

· The last rhino born at the Pittsburgh Zoo was almost 30-years-ago.

· The gestation period is about 15 months and females give birth to one calf.

· The calf can stand on its own within ten minutes of birth.

· The calf at birth usually weighs between 70 to 100 pounds.

· Black rhino calves usually gain about 30 pounds each week from the nutrients in their mother’s milk.

· A calf will remain with its mother until about three years of age.

· A black rhinoceros life span is 40 to 45 years in Zoos

· Rhino skin is actually quite sensitive especially to sunburn and insects, so they roll around in mud for a protective layer.

· A black rhinoceros can move at 40 miles per hour

· Rhinoceros do not have good eyesight but have increased senses of smell and hearing

· The black rhinoceros is not actually black but gray in color.

· The biggest threat to rhinos today is man who poaches them for their horns. Their horns are made of keratin, the same substance as our fingernails.

· The name rhinoceros comes from their most well-known feature-their horns. Rhino is the greek word which means nose and ceros which means horn.

· There are five species of rhinos: the Sumatran, Javan, black, white, and Indian. The black, Javan, and white rhinos are critically endangered.

· A global action plan is being developed to protect all species of rhinos.

To view Pittsburgh Zoo's web page on Zoo and Aquarium Visitor, go to:  http://www.zandavisitor.com/forumtopicdetail-85-Pittsburgh_Zoo_&_PPG_Aquarium

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