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Rare Rhino Birth Brings Smiles During Dark Days - 2001-10-01


The nation is starved for good news, and Ohio's Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens provided some when a rare Sumatran rhinoceros was born just 48 hours after the September 11 terrorist attacks. It is the first such birth in more than a century, and holds out hope of staving off the species' extinction.

For centuries, people have been fascinated by the rhinoceros, which, like the mythical Unicorn, has a distinctive horn above its nose. But the rhino, one of the largest of all land animals, is in trouble.

During the past several decades, all five remaining species have been decimated by poaching, loss of habitat or civil wars.

That is why the Cincinnati Zoo was buzzing with excitement recently when Emi, a Sumatran rhino, gave birth to a healthy, hairy 32.5-kilo baby boy. Leading the cheers was Terri Roth, director of the Zoo's Center for Conservation of Endangered Wildlife.

"This baby is just - he's won all of our hearts," she said. "He is just the cutest thing and very precocious and as vigorous as he could be. He's been extremely strong and healthy and he's great to watch. I mean it's terrific. It's like a little miracle here in Cincinnati."

This is the first captive-bred Sumatran rhino birth in 112 years, raising hopes the animal can be saved from extinction. Most rhino populations have been reduced to just a few thousand animals, and in the case of the two Indonesian species, the Javan and Sumatran, to only a few dozen animals in the wild.

Rhinos are killed mainly for their horn, which some Asians use for medicine, while men in Yemen use it to make fancy dagger handles. The baby's father is Ipuh, who was sent to the zoo from Indonesia after his forest home was destroyed by lumbering.

Ms. Roth says Indonesian zoo officials will soon name the baby when they visit Cincinnati. The baby is covered in dark brown hair and nursing naturally, he's gained more than 9.5 kilos in his first week. Ms. Roth says this birth's significance can't be overstated.

"I think as an endangered species, the Sumatran rhino is a flagship species," she said. "If we can save the Sumatran rhino, that is something we can all be proud of. And by doing so, we are going to be saving a large number of other species at the same time."

This was Emi's first successful pregnancy after five miscarriages. One of the amazing facts doctors discovered is that Sumatran rhinos, in addition to being the only hairy rhino species, only ovulate after mating, the opposite of other rhinos, and most other mammals. That made it especially tricky for her to get pregnant, and breeding rhinos is important. There are only five species of rhinoceros still alive: Africa's white and black rhinos, and the three Asian species: the Indian, Javan and Sumatran.

The baby is attracting plenty of attention, despite the recent tragedies. Ms. Roth says the irony has not been lost on zoo staff that just hours after suspected Muslim terrorists caused our worst national tragedy, the birth represented a cooperative success between this country and Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslin nation. And it made people happy. "We have been flooded with people coming to the zoo to see this baby and for exactly that reason." she said. "They say it is the only positive thing they have heard in the last week and they want to come here and smile again."

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