Toronto Zoo welcomes 'strong' rhino baby as 1st newborn of 2018

A male greater one-horned rhinoceros is the first baby animal born at the Toronto Zoo this year.

Male calf born last Thursday morning is the 2nd baby of mother Ashakiran, 13

The newborn greater one-horned rhino nurses at the Toronto Zoo. The baby, which has not yet been named, was born on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 at 11:04 a.m. (Toronto Zoo)

A male greater one-horned rhinoceros is the first baby animal born at the Toronto Zoo this year.

The Toronto Zoo says the calf, also known as an Indian rhino, was born last Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 at 11:04 a.m. after a pregnancy of about 16 months. A few days after birth, the rhino baby weighed 63 kilograms. 

Proud parents of the newborn are Asha, 13, and her mate Vishnu, 14. The baby is the second calf for mother Asha, short for Ashakiran. She gave birth to a male, named Nandu, on Feb. 17, 2016. 

The birth marks the fifth time that a greater one-horned rhino has been born at the Toronto Zoo. 

Maria Franke, curator of mammals for the Toronto Zoo, told CBC Toronto that the zoo is proud of the birth and it's significant given that there are only about 3,500 rhinos left in the wild.

'It's a very big deal'

"It's amazing," Franke said.

"The fact that Asha gave birth and this is her second surviving calf, it's a testament to her care. We're very excited. Given that they are listed as vulnerable, it's a very big deal that we can still maintain a healthy population of this species," she added.

"Rhinos around the world are under increasing pressure due to habitat loss and poaching for their horn. It is important to educate the public on their plight in the wild and do everything we can to prevent the threats they face and halt declining populations."

Asha and her calf cannot be seen by the public currently,  but will likely be put on display in the spring, she said.

In mid-December, Asha was moved from public viewing into a maternity area in the greater one-horned rhino habitat. Video cameras were set up to monitor her before and after she gave birth.

Franke said the birth was natural and mother and baby are thriving. 
The calf appears to be healthy and is feeding well, according to the Toronto Zoo. (Toronto Zoo/YouTube)

"Everything is going really well," Franke said.

"She basically started showing some irritation early in the morning of the fourth. And at 11:00 a.m., she gave birth, and by around 11:30 a.m., the calf was up walking and already investigating and nursing."

The zoo said the first 30 days are "critical" for the mother and baby. The calf, not yet been named, appears to be healthy, "strong" and is feeding well, Franke said. 

Franke said the zoo is figuring out how it will name the rhino baby, but a contest is possible.

On Christmas Eve, a baby white rhino was born at the zoo to a mother named Zohari. It was the first time in 27 years that a white rhino was born at the zoo. That calf has not been named either. 
Mother Zohari with her unnamed calf. (Toronto Zoo)

Species listed as 'vulnerable'

According to the zoo, the greater one-horned species is listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

Greater one-horned rhinos became close to extinction in the early 1900s and the species was once listed as "endangered." But with conservation efforts, the status of the species has been upgraded.

Habitat degradation, conflict with humans and poaching remain threats.

Small numbers of the rhino exist in Nepal and India. Roughly 70 per cent of the wild population is found in one area of Kaziranga National Park, a world heritage site in the northeast Indian state of Assam.

"Any catastrophic event could have a huge impact on conservation efforts for this species," the zoo said in a news release on Monday.

The zoo said it is part of a North American greater one-horned rhino species survival plan, which aims to create and maintain healthy, genetically diverse populations and conservation efforts to save the species. It supports conservation efforts in the wild through public awareness, such as "keeper talks," and its endangered species reserve fund.

"We definitely want to have these animals sharing this world with us for a very long time," Franke said.