So what does it take to make a baby Rhino? The obvious answer is to put a male and female rhino together, however things are rarely that simple...
Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s efforts to establish a breeding program for Greater One-horned (or Indian) Rhinos began back in 2002 when construction began on a facility to house these rhinos. A great deal of research, planning and investment went into making the rhino complex a reality. It was commissioned in 2003 and Taronga Western Plains Zoo received a male rhino from Nagoya Higashiyama Zoo in Japan. The male’s arrival gave the keepers an opportunity to fine tune husbandry techniques for this species and prepare for the day that a female would arrive. Our male rhino has the unlikely name of Dora, meaning “Dragon” in Japanese, and he weighed about 900 kilograms.
He was actually named after Nagoya Baseball team, the Dragons.
In July, 2009 Taronga brought a female rhino from the US. Amala was about four years old and weighed around 800 kilograms. Female Greater One-horned Rhinos are not mature until around 6 or7 years of age.
Taronga has a great record supporting rhino conservation in Africa and Asia. The zoo selected Senior Keeper Ian Anderson in 2010 to travel to Assam, India, to inspect and evaluate two Taronga-sponsored projects. This also gave Ian an opportunity to observe these animals in the wild.
The first project was the translocation of 10 rhinos from Kaziranga National Park to Manas National Park. Manas’ population of rhinos was decimated by civil war and poaching during the 1990s.
The second project was to provide support to anti-poaching units in Kaziranga National Park. This support was in the form of equipment needed by the units like motor bikes, camping gear and two-way radios. Ian was also invited by the International Rhino Foundation to attend the IUCN Rhino Specialist group Conference in Kaziranga. He later shared what he had learned with staff at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
From 2009 our rhinos grew and matured. By 2012 Dora was 13 yrs old and weighed 2000 kg while Amala was six years and 1600 kg.
In 2012 we began the process of getting these animals together. Greater One-horned Rhinos are an aggressive species. Males have a reputation for injuring females during mating. Zoo Keepers wanted avoid serious injures, so they started the process by letting the two rhinos have contact at a fence between their exhibits, this was done over several months and gave zoo keepers the opportunity to observe the rhinos, looking out for different behaviours such as aggression and oestrus indicators such as whistling, pacing and urine spraying. Eventually Keepers were satisfied that these animals were ready to meet each other. The pair was introduced with keepers on hand in case intervention was needed. Initially both animals were nervous; there was a lot of roaring and chasing.
Introductions went on for two years. Introductions were lengthened and would go over two or three days and nights so keepers kept an all night vidual. It became obvious that the female knew her role but the male seemed to be a little confused. Keepers observed that with each new introduction the male’s behaviour changed towards the positive. After more introductions Keepers were confident that the rhinos could be left to their own devices overnight.
In July 2014, Keepers observed indicators that a mating had taken place, hormone analysis confirmed that Amala was pregnant but it would be another 474 days before we would see the results.
Amala delivered a healthy male calf on the 24th October, 2015, which was named Rajah and was the first Greater One-horned Rhino born in Australia
This calf represents the efforts of a huge team of people, keepers, veterinarians, managers and Maintenance staff over 15 years.