Posts Tagged With: breeding

Breeding is no easy feat for rhinos

photo: Andrew Batchelor

Arguably one of the most awkward breeding pairs in all of nature…females reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age, and males not until 7 years.

If it’s a successful coupling, 15 months later a new baby rhino will make his way into the world!

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Breeding in a War Zone

Each day, 3 rhinos and 100 elephants lose their lives to poaching. It’s a tragedy of global proportion, threatening the future of both species. But poaching is also having dire effects on the living populations.

Rhinos

*Female rhinos reach sexual maturity at 6-7 years old, and males at 10-12 years old.
*Gestation is 16 months
*Babies stay with mom for 2-4 years

So any given rhino then needs minimally 10 years to successfully reproduce another rhino.

rhino courtship

During courtship, the female chases the male, vocalizing, the pair can become quite aggressive fighting and wrestling before copulation.

Elephants

*Female elephants reach sexual maturity at 12-16 years old, and males at 10 years old.
*Gestation is 2 years
*Babies stay with mom for 3 years

Any given elephant needs a minimum of 17 years to successfully reproduce another elephant.

elephants courting

Elephants do not choose one mate for life. Their courtships are brief, but affectionate, using gentle nuzzles and gestures.

Breeding During the Poaching Crisis

This means in the midst of widespread poaching, we must assume there ARE rhinos and elephants left  of appropriate age to mate; and that the mother is not killed before giving birth or while nursing.

In rhinos and elephants,  the females mate only after a baby is independent of them (avg of 3 years), but in areas with more prevalent poaching, the animals are stressed. This stress causes them to mate even less often.

Genetic Diversity (Survival of the Fittest)

With tusks and horns worth their weight in gold, a poacher’s goal is the largest tusks and horns he can get his greedy hands on.

The issue with this, is that generally the animals with the largest horns/tusks are also the most genetically strong within their species. Nature has a way of assuring a species’ survival.  When the strongest members of a species are removed, the remaining species will procreate, BUT with “lesser”, substandard genes.

It is too early to be sure of the exact effect this will have on the surviving rhinos and elephants, but surely there will be a consequence.

elephant group in Addo Elephant National Park

Elephant herd in Addo Elephant National Park.

Current Effect

The social hierarchy in elephants is complex and intricate. In a herd, the matriarchs (the oldest adult females) are the glue that hold the group together. They are the leaders, and the backbone. They are also the ones with the largest tusks. Without them, the youngest elephants are vulnerable, and the overall direction and cohesion of the group is lost.

In Secrets of the Savanna, Mark and Delia Owens noted in the Luangwa area, before the onslaught of poaching, elephants did not ovulate until 16 years of age.  Yet after the poaching crisis, females were reproducing at half that age.

In addition, their research indicated that elephants in normal, unstressed populations partook in  allomothering (care given by female relatives other than the mother) which greatly enhanced calf survival, and taught the adolescent females mothering skills. In fractured groups with lesser experienced females, this is not the case.

Nature has an uncanny way of handling adaptation. In high-frequency poaching areas, some groups were also being born tuskless.

Unlike elephants, rhinos don’t have the complex social structure. Therefore, when poaching occurs of a mother, the baby is immediately orphaned, and unless humans step-in, has no chance of survival.

A mother and child rhino pause briefly before crossing the track.

Rhino mother & baby in Leopard Hills Reserve.

Our majestic pachyderms don’t breed like dogs and cats. With only one birth every few years, and multiple deaths on a daily basis, the odds are stacked against them. So while our fight to stop poaching is to prevent death, it is mutually to encourage life.

 

o reconnect elephants’ natural migratory routes links protected areas together by creating habitat corridors,

 

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Sumatrans: The Forgotten Rhino

Sumatran rhinos are the smallest of the living rhinos, and probably the most unique in appearance. They are covered in hair and most closely resemble their extinct ancestors woolly rhinos.

sumatran range history and current

Borneo and Sumatra are home to the last Sumatrans.

They are the most vocal, and quite agile. Living in jungle conditions, they climb mountains and riverbanks surprisingly easily.

There are less than 150 Sumatrans left in the wild. In captivity there are only 9; and of them,  just two captive females have reproduced in the last 15 years. Doesn’t make for a bright outlook does it?

Sumatrans live in fragmented areas due to deforestation and an ever shrinking habitat. They also face the same peril as their African cousins-poaching.

The plight to save the remaining endangered Sumatran rhinos has grown more urgent following the death of Gelugob. She resided in Lok Kawi Wildlife Park in Sabah, Northern Malaysia, and passed away of old age on January 11th.

Gelugob

Gelugob

For 19 years, experts had studied her breeding habits with hopes of her giving birth. She was unable to produce eggs and did not respond to hormone treatments.

Across the world, in Ohio the Cincinnati Zoo is making efforts to save the species  as well. Infamous for a previously successful breeding program with Emi (see previous post: Emi: the World-Famous Sumatran), they are now hoping for success again by breeding resident Sumatran Suci with her brother Harapan.

With intense efforts worldwide, the remaining Sumatrans are being studied, bred and monitored in hopes of keeping the species alive.

Ratu and Andalas son-

Andatu, born in June of 2013 at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia.

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Plan B

Imagine being one of only four people left on the planet, the future of humanity in your hands. It’s up to you to make babies, re-populate, save your species. Pressure? You bet.

Sadly, this is the case for the only four Northern white rhinos on the planet. Sudan and Suni (the boys), and Najin and Fatu (the ladies) are the last of their species. Residing in Ol’ Pejeta Conservancy, it has been a hope they could produce a miracle. (see previous post: …And Then There Were Four)

Under 24 hour armed guard to protect them from poaching, they have been cared for and maintained to keep them healthy and happy. Despite all efforts at a suitable environment, there has been no success. Although Suni and Najin were seen mating in 2012, the 16 month gestation period came and went, and hopes were dashed.

four northerns 2The quartet is not getting younger, and time is of the essence. So the team of experts and conservationists have come up with  Plan B.

According to Ol’ Pejeta, this month a male southern white rhino will be introduced to the two northern white females, with the objective of getting them pregnant at the earliest opportunity.If this works, the hope is that the two females can produce several offspring through ‘intercrossing’ the subspecies.

Although this is not as ideal, this is the next best thing. They will hold the genes of the Northern whites, genes that helped that species survive and adapt to their environment. Any attempt at perpetuating the species is imperative at this point.

Fight for Rhinos and Helping Rhinos are proud to support Ol’ Pejeta Conservancy. To help further their efforts, consider contributing to Fight for Rhinos at the link on the bottom or left of the page.

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How to Make a Baby Rhino

Breeding programs are essential for endangered species. But how does this happen with limited animals in a captive environment? Sometimes they can be matched with a suitable mate, but for rhinos who are aggressive with mating, often natural breeding is not an option, and artificial insemination is used.

STEP 1
First the rhinos are “matched”. Through the SSP (Species Survival Program), captive rhinos, as well as other endangered sspspecies,  across the country are kept in a main database. Through this program, rhinos are carefully paired for breeding, based on genetic diversity and zoo placements (i.e. space, demographics, etc).

STEP 2
Now the female is selected as a prospective mom, it’s time to figure out when the best time is to attempt insemination. The keepers bring dung samples to the lab; through the feces hormones can be analyzed. It can target whether the rhino is ready for breeding, if she has a regular cycle, and when her optimum time for ovulation is. This is done repeatedly  for many months.rhino AI 2

STEP 3
The male is anesthetized and the semen is collected. The sperm is analyzed under a microscope to be sure it is healthy.

STEP 4
The female is then anesthetized. Special 3D ultrasound system is used to monitor her reproductive system and using a probe, the semen is inserted. The procedure is complete and the rhinos are awakened.

For the next few weeks, the female’s hormone levels continue to be monitored to check for pregnancy. If successful, in 16 months there will be a baby rhino.

rhino cryobio bank

Cincinnati Zoo is home to one of the highly valued rhino sperm banks.

The process of artificial insemination with rhino is a fairly new process; it began in Hungary in 2006. Scientists and conservationists have come a long way. Sperm, and recently entire embryos, are able to be frozen and stored. Perhaps most exciting, is the production of  stem cells from the Northern White Rhino. Is cloning in the near future? With only four left in the entire world, is this the next step after their inevitable extinction?

baby rh sticking tongue out

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Baby Boom?

Breeding rhinos in captivity has been a challenge to say the least. With the demise of the rhino in the wild, the role of zoos and sanctuaries has become primarily conservation, i.e breeding.  But scientists may now have the solution: dung.

New scientific methodology allows researchers to study individuals’ genetics as well as their reproductive cycles from the hormones in the dung.  This allows them to more accurately pinpoint the best times to breed them.

At the Chester Zoo in the UK, the zoo had gone 10 years without a rhino birth until beginning the research. Now they boast 4 births in the last 4 years; a phenomenal feat!chester zoo rhino4

Although this success comes from the unglamorous job of analyzing and weighing dung, day in and day out, it seems it has paid off tenfold. Dr. Sue Walker, from the Black Rhino Endocrinology Program, says “These populations are vital as an insurance policy against further declines in the wild, and the more successful the population, both in terms of growth rates and maintaining the genetic diversity by making sure all individuals breed, the better that insurance policy can be.”

The news could not have come at a more pivotal time, with 394 rhino already poached in 2013, and the projection at over 800 when the year is up. The techniques are being shared and applied at zoos throughout the world.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgBZdYUzMn0

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Shooting Fish in a Barrel

So proud of himself!

So proud of himself!

Nothing says “home” quite like a dead rhino head mounted on the wall, or a lovely bear hide under your feet. You too can redecorate to your liking. For $2,000 you can shoot a zebra, or for $20,000 a lion. Cost isn’t an issue? Well then for $40,000 how about an elephant?

The trophy hunting industry is alive and well in Africa. But with today’s modern hunters, if price is not an issue, neither is convenience. That’s where “canned hunts” or “captive hunts” come in. Shooters pay enormous fees for the guaranteed kill of an animal, some of them endangered species.

Although canned hunts are advertised as rugged, outdoor adventures, in reality they are conducted in an atmosphere of comfort and convenience. The area is usually a fenced enclosure from which there is no escape, ranging from a few square yards to several hundred acres, depending on how “strenuous” you want your hunt to be.

The animals are either bred by the private land owner just for this purpose or are purchased as “retired” zoo or circus animals. They are all accustomed to people.  Whether someone drives up in a jeep to feed them or shoot them, they know no different and have no fear of humans. At times a rhino or elephant have had to be woken up in order to be shot!

A family vacation for most involves baseball games, museums, amusement parks, or camping. But apparantly the for the elite it means shooting endangered animals.

A family vacation for most involves baseball games, museums, amusement parks, or camping. But apparently the for the elite it means shooting endangered animals.

The essentials are always the same regardless of the cost of the trip: an animal who is either fenced in, lured to feeding stations, or habituate to humans, and odds so heavily in the hunter’s favor that there is little risk of leaving without a trophy. Most canned hunts even have taxidermists on site or on call to mount the trophy (a.k.a the animal whose fate was sealed the moment you called for a reservation.)

The United States is the largest importer of exotic and endangered animals from Africa. The trophy hunting industry from Africa alone brings in $91 billion annually based on a study by the Professional Hunters Association of S.A.

This man didn't even have to leave the jeep to shoot this unforuntate lion.

This man didn’t even have to leave the jeep to shoot this unforuntate lion.

As if it weren’t bad enough, the U.S has its own hand in the business. The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are over a thousand captive hunts in America, operating in at least 28 states, most commonly in Texas. There are however no federal laws governing canned hunts in America nor does the Animal Welfare Act regulate game preserves or canned hunts. The Endangered Species Act actually ALLOWS the hunting of endangered animals with the appropriate permit!

Canned hunts are brutal and one-sided. They are a mockery to hunters who abide by the “fair chase” regulations and ideals; and they are a shameful “luxury” our endangered species cannot afford.

troph hunt lions

This is a ranch where lions are bred to be killed.


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