Toronto Zoo welcomes baby white rhino for first time in 27 years

On a snowy Christmas Eve, a baby white rhino was born at the Toronto Zoo. He's the first one to be born at the zoo in 27 years.

Toronto Zoo says the calf is 'big and strong' and has 'very hairy ears'

Mother Zohari with her unnamed calf. (Toronto Zoo)

On a snowy Christmas Eve night a new baby was born. But not just any baby. After being pregnant for approximately 16 months, the proud mother birthed a 62 kilogram, or 136 pound, bundle of joy with a strong appetite and "very hairy ears."

This newborn is, of course, not of the human species — he's a white rhinoceros calf, the first of his species born at the Toronto Zoo in some 27 years. 

"Both mom and baby are doing very well, with reports that this first-time mom is very restful, calm and protective," said representatives from the zoo in a news release. 

Rhino horn 'most expensive commodity on the planet'

The zoo says the successful birth is vital, as the White Rhino is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List as "near threatened."

According to the IUCN, at the end of the 19th century the species was nearly wiped out, with only 20 to 50 white rhinos on the planet. Conservation efforts, however, helped the population to rebound to about 20,000 individuals as of 2010. 

But an appetite for white rhino horn as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicines — often sold as miracle cures for myriad conditions or as status symbols for the rich — could see white rhinos redesignated as vulnerable. 

In 2015, Maj.-Gen. Johan Jooste, who works to stop poaching in Kruger National Park in South Africa, told CBC News the park has become a "poachers' supermarket" because the horn has become "the most expensive commodity on the planet, gram for gram."

Rhino horn can be worth up to $60,000 US per kilogram on the black market.

Rhino is part of a breeding program

The Toronto Zoo is part of a multinational effort called the White Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan. 

The newborn rhino's mother, seven-year-old Zohari, came to Toronto from Busch Gardens in Florida in 2012. A male white rhino named Tom, 10, is the father. 

"Zohari's genetics are very valuable to the White Rhino Species Survival Plan which makes this birth particularly significant," says Maria Franke, curator of mammals at the Toronto Zoo.

Zoo staff says the first 30 days are a "critical" time for Zohari and her yet unnamed calf.

The pair have been moved to an indoor maternity area and will be monitored closely with video cameras, which means zoo visitors will have to wait a while before they can meet the big little guy in person.