Faru will have to wait until next year to celebrate his first Father's Day as dad to his second offspring. And yet, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s black rhino has already given a gift that could be invaluable to his unborn calf.
His mate, Seyia, is expected to give birth to their calf in early July. Just in case things don't go as planned, zoo staff members have been collecting Faru's blood for the past nine weeks. Hoxworth Blood Center, University of Cincinnati has been banking the plasma to use if Seyia can't care for her calf and it has to be hand-raised.
“The hope is that the calf will nurse and be raised by her mom, but some inexperienced moms aren't sure what to do with their offspring and humans have to step in to provide nourishment and warmth," said Christina Gorsuch, a curator of mammals at the zoo. (That's what happened with Fiona, the premature hippo that has been cared for by Cincinnati Zoo staff since her Jan. 24 birth.) "If that happens this time, we'll be able to give the calf the best start possible, with help from her dad.”
Plasma contains immunoglobulins that help boost the immune system.
In the past, a zoo would have had to anesthetized such a large animal to collect its blood. But Faru's caregivers have trained him to voluntarily stand for blood draws.
Sometimes he cooperates for fifteen whole minutes," Gorsuch said. "He seems to like all the attention and treats that he gets during the procedure."
This isn't the first time that the zoo has worked with Hoxworth to bank plasma. That was back in 1998, when the zoo was expecting its first elephant calf. Those samples are still banked in case they're needed: Plasma can be frozen and stored indefinitely. And it could be used for any animal of the same species, not just the donor's offspring.
In fact, zoo staff used cheetah blood banked in 2002 and 2016 just last year, when they had to hand-raise premature cubs.
“The cubs had many health challenges, including a compromised immune system," Gorsuch said. "Giving them plasma infusions might have made the difference between life and death."
A total of 16 black rhino calves have been born at the Cincinnati Zoo, but it hasn't had one since 1999. Zoo staff had to hand-raise two of those calves, one in the 1970s and one in the 1980s.
Faru came to Cincinnati from Atlanta, where he sired one calf, to be paired with Seyia two years ago. A breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which manages zoo populations, sparked the move.
One of the oldest known species of mammals, black rhinos are native to Eastern and Central Africa and weigh between 1,760 and 3,080 pounds as adults. Newborn calves, born after a 15-month gestation period, weigh between 73 and 121 pounds.
Black rhinos are critically endangered, with poaching and habitat loss cited as among the threats to the species. Fewer than 5,000 black rhinos remain in the world, and approximately 115 live in North American Zoos and are managed by the SSP.