Monday 5 December 2016

First rhino born at animal park gives hope to the future of the critically endangered species - experts

Published 21/10/2015 | 10:02

The first rhino to be born at Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury in the park's 40-year history has given hope for the future of the critically endangered species, experts said.

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The unnamed male rhino calf, who was born to first-time mother Damara, is "doing well".

Black rhino numbers in the wild have been decimated by poachers cashing in on lucrative horn sales in Asia, where it is thought to have medicinal benefits.

The Duke of Cambridge this week highlighted the decline in rhino numbers as China's president Xi Jinping starts his state visit to Britain.

He said the rate of decline meant that children born this year, like his daughter Charlotte, will see the last wild rhinos before their 25th birthdays.

In a direct appeal to China, William said he was "absolutely convinced" that the Far East nation could become a global leader in the protection of wildlife.

A three week old male Black Rhino calf with his mother Damara at Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury in Kent as he becomes the first baby rhino to be born in the park's 40-year history. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A three week old male Black Rhino calf with his mother Damara at Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury in Kent as he becomes the first baby rhino to be born in the park's 40-year history. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A three week old male Black Rhino calf with his mother Damara at Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury in Kent as he becomes the first baby rhino to be born in the park's 40-year history. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A three week old male Black Rhino calf at Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury in Kent as he becomes the first baby rhino to be born in the park's 40-year history. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A three week old male Black Rhino calf with his mother Damara at Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury in Kent as he becomes the first baby rhino to be born in the park's 40-year history. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

At Howletts - which has been working to protect black rhinos since 1971 - keepers hailed the birth of their calf as a small sign of hope for the species' future.

Animal director Neil Spooner said: "This rhino calf is particularly significant because he's the first to be born here at Howletts in our 40-year history.

"More importantly, his arrival means hope for the future of this critically endangered species. The birth went very well for both mum and her calf."

Keepers said the rhino was starting to explore his surroundings but his mother was keeping a watchful eye, and encouraging him back to the rhino house after short periods.

Hoofstock keeper Helen Rhodes said: "We've been letting Damara and her baby out very early in the morning, before the park opens to the public, for the last few days.

"This is Damara's first calf and she has a typical black rhino temperament, which means she is extremely protective, so we wanted to take things slowly and calmly, before formally introducing the little one to the general public."

Pictures and footage of the rhino show him playing, bouncing and charging as he attempts to keep up with his mother before venturing back to his indoor enclosure.

Ms Rhodes added: "It's wonderful to see him exploring his surroundings. He's certainly full of beans and loves charging around, although he doesn't leave mum's side for long."

Mass poaching of black rhino saw a 96% decline in their population from 65,000 in 1970 to just 2,300 in 1993, according to Save the Rhino.

Conservation programmes across Africa have seen their numbers rise to around 5,000 now, but they still remain on the critically endangered list.

The Aspinall Foundation, which works with Howletts and its sister park Port Lympne, has forged a global reputation by returning black rhinos born at Port Lympne to protected areas of Africa.

Press Association

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