Rupert’s Romp to Indiana’s Mesker Park Zoo

Rupert is the youngest of the Zoo’s three Greater One-Horned rhinos, also known as the Indian Rhino. As the curator of pachyderms, I had the great privilege of being one of few humans to witness a live rhino birth, Rupert’s birth. Rupert was born on exhibit on June 21, 2014. His mom, Niki, had been on birth watch for almost 15 months - one month longer than the average 14-month gestation period.  

The entire pachyderm animal care staff was monitoring Niki’s behavior day and night to notice any acute change that might’ve indicated active labor. Niki didn’t show any sign of labor the morning of Rupert’s birth, and if she did, we missed them! Because this was Niki’s first birth, the team was a little anxious for both her and the baby. The original plan for Rupert’s birthwas for him to be delivered inside. However, Niki had other plans. Later that afternoon, I received a radio call from a tram driver, “Laura, I think Niki is giving birth!” I asked, “What makes you think that?” And the response was, “Well, I can see feet!” With that sudden update, Niki’s care team and the veterinary team rushed to the exhibit just in time to see the little tike drop softly to the ground. That evening, Niki decided that she and Rupert were sleeping through the night outside, so we stayed the night to monitor both of them. Niki and Rupert had a good first night together. By morning, our new mother and son duo looked like two milk chocolate rhinos as they soaked in Niki’s beloved mud wallow.

Throughout the last three years, Niki has been a wonderful mother to Rupert, but it is now time for the two to part ways. Rupert’s birth was the result of a recommendation from the Species Survival Planning Committee for Greater One-Horned rhinos. The recommendation to breed was based off of his parents, Niki and Chandra’s, genetic compatibility. Chandra arrived at the OKC Zoo November 1990 and has since sired several offspring with other females. Niki was a new addition, arriving at the Zoo in February 2009.

In 2009, 3-year-old Niki had just become the typical age that all rhino youngsters are when they leave their moms in the wild to have a family of their own. Thus, at 3 years of age, Rupert is now ready to head off to his next adventure at Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana. There, he’ll share his habitat with a grand, older female named Meski until a young female is available for him to breed with. We’ll truly miss watching our little guy romp around, but this move is crucially important for his entire species.

Because populations of Greater One-Horned rhinos have begun to increase because of strict protection in India, the species was listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species in 2008 – an upgrade from their previous decades of being listed as endangered. However, this species is still under pressure in many parts of their natural range due to habitat encroachment and a decline in habitat quality.

The Oklahoma City Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers holds an annual Bowling for Rhino event every July. BFR is a global conservation event where proceeds from each participating zoo goes toward protecting rhinos in their home territory of Asia. Keep a look out for the 2018 date, and be sure to bring the family to participate! With a roll of a bowling ball we can help to save these fascinating creatures!

– Laura Bottaro, Zoo curator 

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