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Historic in vitro southern white rhino birth is first for San Diego Zoo, in the U.S.

Southern White Rhino Calf Conceived Through Artificial Insemination Bonding Well with Its Mother at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
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Posted at 11:08 AM, Jul 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-03 13:17:30-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A baby southern white rhino born this week at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has monumental implications moving forward.

Not only is the rhino calf the zoo's first successful rhino birth via artificial insemination, it's the first successful in North America for the rhino species.

The calf, named Edward, was born Sunday at the zoo's Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center. Edward's birth now represents the potential to bring back the rhino's relative, the northern white rhino, from the brink of extinction.

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"Not only are we thankful for a healthy calf, but this birth is significant, as it also represents a critical step in our effort to save the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction," Barbara Durrant, Henshaw endowed director of Reproductive Sciences at San Diego Zoo Global, said.

Researchers hope the science behind the calf's birth can lead to a successful recovery of the genetic recovery of the northern white rhino, of which only two remain on the planet. Both are females.

Ultimately, researchers believe southern white rhinos could serve as surrogates for northern white rhino embryos. The process has already been successfully applied to other rhino species, according to the zoo. Through in vitro fertilization, researchers say a northern white rhino could be born within 10 to 20 years.

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Right now, the San Diego Zoo is focusing on making sure the new calf and its mom, Victoria, continue doing well. Durrant says Victoria is very attentive and the calf is walking around and nursing frequently.

Victoria was artificially inseminated on March 22, 2018, after hormone-induced ovulation. White rhino gestation is estimated to take 485 days. She carried the calf for 493 days.

The calf is the zoo's 99th southern white rhino born at the Safari Park. The park has also seen successful births of 73 greater one-horned rhinos and 14 black rhinos.

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Victoria's newborn, however, brings a new hope to the zoo's program.

The mom and calf will remain off exhibit from the public to allow them to bond, the zoo says. Eventually, the calf will be introduced to the other five female rhinos at the rescue center. One of them, Amani, is also pregnant through artificial insemination and due in September or October.