DES MOINES, Iowa — The rhino barn at Des Moines' Blank Park Zoo has a new inhabitant.
The unnamed 80-pound calf, a female, was born to mom Ayana and dad Kiano, the park’s rare eastern black rhinos, on Oct. 11 at about 11:23 a.m. on the zoo’s grounds.
The birth was met with joy at the zoo, as well as in the rhino conservation world. Ayana’s ability to carry and deliver a healthy baby, one of just seven black rhinos to be born this year in zoos worldwide, is an important highlight in the fight against the species’ decadeslong decline, experts said.
“Every baby counts,” said Lisa Smith, director of animal programs at the Great Plains Zoo in South Dakota and an eastern black rhino expert. “Considering rhinos are so endangered, whether it is a captive or wild birth, it is really important to just add to the world's rhino population.”
Eastern black rhinos are listed as critically endangered by the World Wildlife Fund, and there are fewer than 1,000 in the wild and in captive populations combined, representing a 96% decline from the population’s height in 1970.
Des Moines' rhinos are two of just 58 eastern black rhinos housed in North American zoos, according to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, a leading zoological nonprofit organization. Only six of those 58 are breeding females.
“It’s so great that the baby is a female because the black rhino population tends to be skewed toward male,” said Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, a nonprofit working to stop the world’s rhinos from becoming extinct. “Her reproductive potential is quite high and, hopefully, she will contribute greatly to the overall population.”
The birth is also a milestone for the zoo, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, said zoo spokesman Ryan Bickel. Having a baby rhino born at Blank Park is proof of the importance of the $4 million African exhibit installed in 2012 and the community’s ongoing support of the zoo’s conservation efforts.
“This is an extremely significant event,” Mark Vukovich, the zoo’s CEO, said of the birth.