Pittsburgh Zoo marks historic black rhino birth

After 15 months of waiting, Pittsburgh Zoo officials said the facility’s female black rhinoceros, Azizi, gave birth to a female baby, marking the zoo’s first black rhino birth in 47 years. With only 4,800 animals left in the wild, every captive black rhino birth is a landmark occasion. Zoo veterinarians monitored the birth and say the calf appears to be healthy. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (9/12)
Paul A. Selvaggio
The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium has a new  baby rhinoceros.

 By Taryn Luna / Pittsburgh  Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s animal family grew by one on Saturday  with a female baby black rhinoceros, the zoo announced today.

For more than a year zookeepers tried to introduce its female black rhino  Azizi with Jomo, the zoo’s male black rhino, with the hope that the two would  mate and produce the first black rhino born in Pittsburgh in 47 years.

The black rhino is an endangered species. The birth is significant, too,  because many remaining black rhinos in captivity are male.

Rhinos are solitary animals and although successful, the introductory process  was long.

Fifteen months ago, zookeepers learned Azizi was pregnant and last week they  noticed her behavior was changing.

She paced and appeared uncomfortable, at one point putting her feet in a  water trough and stretching, zoo officials said.

The 50-minute labor was closely monitored by zoo veterinarians, who remained  out of sight to not interfere in or alter the delivery.

Baby rhinos have a mortality rate of about 25 percent in zoos and the first  three months are critical to their health, according to the zoo.

Thus far, the baby appears to be doing well after being born at 70.4 pounds,  compared to the 4,500 to 5,000 pound weight of an adult.

Veterinarians said she was nursing within the first two hours of her birth,  which is the first step in bonding with the mother.

Calves gain about 30 pounds each week on a milk diet and zookeepers plan to begin feeding her  solid foods, such as alfalfa and sweet potatoes, when she reaches about one  month old.

Zoo officials said the baby is very active, moving around and trotting in her  room until her mother is out of sight, and then wailing until she returns. They  plan to continue  to monitor her to ensure that she’s nursing.

In order to preserve the black rhino species, which is down to 4,800 animals  in the wild, zoo officials said earlier this year that the calf will likely be  placed in another zoo once it is old enough to breed with other black rhinos  since it cannot be bred with its father.

Populations of black rhinos, which were depleted by 96

percent from 1970 to 1972, are recovering slowly in the wild.

According to a written statement from the zoo, Azizi and the baby will not be  on exhibit until they can bond and weather and temperatures are ideal.

Taryn Luna: tluna@post-gazette.com  or 412-263-1985. First Published September 12, 2012 3:44 pm

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