Veterinarians at Michigan State University are working to bring a rare pregnant black rhino to full term for her due date in late-December.
Doppsee first became a resident of the Potter Park Zoo in 2011 and has since been a crucial part of the Species Survival Plan working to ensure certain critical species in zoos and aquariums around the US thrive and survive. And the survival of one black rhino's calf could be critical to some of the last surviving individuals of the species.
Black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Though wild populations are increasing throughout their native lands of southeastern Africa, populations are just a fraction of what they once were. Between 1960 and 1995, populations dropped by 98 percent to less than 2,500 individuals mainly due to human activities, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Conservation efforts across the continent have helped increase their populations and today researchers believe there are more than 5,000 individuals in the wild.
The genetics of Doppsee and her offspring are critical to the survival of captive black rhinos around the world. That’s why her mating with a nine-year-old male from Texas named Phineus was so exciting to her caretakers.
“Before breeding between Phineus and Doppsee even began, zoo staff and the veterinarians worked diligently to make sure it would be safe for all animals and people involved,” said director of Potter Park Zoo Cynthia Wagner in a statement. “The zoo community as a whole has been working together to understand the breeding and reproduction process of rhinos. Potter Park Zoo is very fortunate to foster an environment where we could introduce, monitor, and mate Doppsee and Phineus.”
And Doppsee is no ordinary rhino, according to her caretakers. She has a personality and attitude that makes her pregnancy amicable for her team of veterinarians.
“She isn’t like most rhinos. Just by using her favorite foods and treats, we’ve been able to train Doppsee for abdominal and rectal ultrasounds, blood draws and exams,” said the park’s director of animal health, Ronan Eustace.
When Doppsee gets her weekly ultrasound, she enters a chute with a backdoor that closes. The front door remains open so that she has the option to leave whenever she wants while veterinarians work behind her. Because of her good-nature – and positive reinforcement therapy – she has been cooperative throughout the entire process and rarely leaves during her standard procedure.
Black rhinos can weigh more than 1,360 kilograms (3,000 pounds) and have a gestation period of about 15 months, according to the Rhino Resource Center.