Sunday, October 1, 2023 Oct 1, 2023
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It’s Your Turn to Hold the Rhino

By D Magazine |

Dr. Robin Radcliffe, associate vet-erinarian at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, suspected his patient was expecting, but he wasn’t sure. There’s no pregnancy test for a black rhino, and at 2,000-plus pounds, with skin as thick as the armor on a tank, Sinampande’s svelte figure was unlikely to show any sign she was with child. But a potential pregnancy couldn’t be taken lightly; black rhinos are an endangered species and captive breeding programs have been difficult to establish.

So Dr. Radcliffe wanted to do what any self-respecting rhino obstetrician would do: a transrectal ultrasound. But how? Sedating her might hurt the fetus-and rhinos really bate to be restrained. “Going in rectally seems illogical, like something you just simply can’t do,” says Radcliffe. “It turns out that they don’t mind the rectal exam. What they don’t like is being locked in a chute.”

Radcliffe and the other animal caretakers at Fossil Rim conditioned Sinampande to stand in an open chute while eating fruit and being touched by humans. If she felt uncertain, she could back out in a hurry. While she calmly munched her oranges, apples, and sweet potatoes, Radcliffe stood behind her and inserted a snake-like fiber optic probe attached to a small television. “The first time I did it, my heart was pounding,” he said. “You’ve got to respect rhinos, They are very powerful and very fast, and can be dangerous.” But Sinampande didn’t seem to notice the probe. Sure enough, the probe revealed a developing fetus. Everyone was thrilled, and the vets immediately set about baby-proofing mom’s enclosure. On Dec. 29, after a 16-month gestation period (normal for rhinos), Sinampande gave birth to a 55-pound daughter. Fossil Rim is currently running a contest to name the little one.

Radcliffe has since used the probe to determine when the other female rhinos are ovulating and ready to breed. He recently confirmed that Coco, a two-year-old black rhino, is expecting her first offspring next February.