Rare White Rhino Calf Is Thriving at San Diego Zoo, Giving Hope for Species

A baby southern white rhino is thriving after being born at the San Diego Zoo through artificial insemination.
San Diego Zoo

"That tail just wags and it makes us feel he's just happy to be alive and happy to be here," lead rhino keeper Jonnie Capiro said.

Meet Edward. He's the very first baby rhino born in North America using artificial insemination and frozen sperm. He's thriving at the San Diego Zoo with his mom, and he's bringing hope for the future of his endangered species.

Edward is a happy, 148-pound baby boy who likes to play and run around his enclosure. Zookeepers say he is brave and curious when checking out his surroundings, but he's never far from his mother's side.

"They do have behaviors that are quite like a puppy. And that tail just wags and it makes us feel he's just happy to be alive and happy to be here," lead rhino keeper Jonnie Capiro said in a video released by the zoo.

The southern white rhino was born on July 28. His mom, Victoria, was artificially inseminated using the frozen sperm of another southern white rhino in March last year, something that is rarely attempted with rhinos anywhere. Edward's historic and successful birth thrilled zookeepers, marking a crucial step in their fight to save the northern white rhino, a distant subspecies of the southern white rhino.

There are only two northern white rhinos left in the world, and they both female. As a result, assisted reproduction is the only way to recover the species. Scientists hope that southern whites could one day be surrogates for northern white embryos.

Because doing something one time doesn't prove you can do it," said zoo reproductive sciences director Barbara Durrant, a second southern white has been impregnated and keepers are awaiting the birth of that baby. "We want to make sure that this technique of artificial reproduction is routine and reliable," Durrant said.

This is not only a long-term commitment for Durrant but a personal one as well. The zoo cared for a northern white rhino named Nola until her death in 2015.

"We feel a responsibility as a member of the species that caused their extinction," Durrant said.