ASHEBORO — Zookeepers report a new calf was born Sunday at the N.C. Zoo.
The as-yet-unnamed girl is healthy and nursing and is expected to gain 100 pounds a month in the first year, according to a news release from the zoo. She could weigh 3,500 to 5,500 pounds when fully grown.
“Congratulations to the North Carolina Zoo on the successful birth of a third Southern white rhino in just two years,” Susi H. Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said in the release. “I’m proud of the Zoo’s continuing commitment to saving this and other threatened species at home and around the world.”
The zoo has been home to rhinos since 1976 as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan. However, the zoo waited for more than 40 years for a healthy rhino calf.
The Zoo’s 40-acre Watani Grasslands expansion — completed in 2008 — was created specifically for a breeding rhino herd.
“This is a great moment and testament to the dedication of our Zoo staff,” zoo Director Pat Simmons said in the release. “These successful births are because of a lot of hard work and collaboration among our entire animal care staff.”
Southern white rhinos were hunted to near extinction by the beginning of the 20th century for their horns, which some erroneously believe provide medicinal benefits, according to the release. Rhino horn is constructed from keratin, which is the same material that makes up human fingernails and hair.
Populations in the wild still face significant threats from poaching and habitat loss, the zoo said. The zoo's staff also work on projects in several countries in Southern Africa to protect wild rhinos from poaching and save the species from extinction.
The zoo’s herd now consists of nine rhinos: male Stormy; females Linda, Kit, Natalie, Abby, and Olivia; and calves Nandi and Bonnie and the new female calf just born.
The second-largest land mammal after elephants, rhinos are pregnant from 16 to 18 months (elephants are pregnant for about 24 months). A rhino will only give birth every two to five years. At full maturity, a southern white rhino will have two horns, grow 12 to 13 feet long and up to 6 feet from hoof to shoulder, and weigh 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. They can live 40 to 50 years and run at speeds of up to 30 mph.