Just in time for World Rhino Day on Thursday, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance announced Tuesday that a six-week-old male southern white rhino calf at San Diego Zoo Safari Park has been given a name: Neville.
The name was chosen by a supporter of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance in honor of a South African doctor who had a positive impact on the donor’s life.
According to the zoo, the energetic and confident calf is thriving and has had many new firsts since its birth on August 6, including meeting other rhinos, and has gained enough stamina and mass to now occupy the 2-hectare main habitat at Nikita to explore Kahn Rhino Rescue Center.
He can be seen running around the habitat at top speed, stopping frequently to splash around and wallow in mud wallows. Rolling in the mud is a natural behavior of rhinos. Rhinos coat themselves in a thick layer of mud that acts as sunscreen and insect repellent, helping to keep them cool.
As well as spending time with his mother Livia, Neville recently met two of the other adult females who live at the Rhino Rescue Center: Victoria and Wallis. Under Livia’s watchful eyes, the calf often interacts with the two adults – sometimes engaging in playful behavior, including headbutting, or just curiously observing their activities.
Neville was born at around 110 pounds and is gaining 3 to 5 pounds a week. He currently weighs 250 pounds. When fully grown, around the age of 3, he could weigh between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds and stand 6 feet at the shoulder.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance leaders said all rhino births are significant, and Neville’s birth shows Livia can carry a calf and care for her offspring. Livia is now among the candidates at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center who could potentially serve as a surrogate for a northern white embryo in the future.
Only two northern white rhinos remain on earth and reside in a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya. The northern white rhino conservation work can be applied to other rhino species as well. The zoo’s Northern White Rhino Initiative is trying to save the northern white rhino through reproductive technologies including artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer.
At the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center, a team of animal care and health teams, reproductive physiologists, and geneticists are working with southern white rhinos as a model for the development of these technologies, with the ultimate goal of building a banked northern white rhino population.
There are five species of rhino: white with an estimated population of 18,000 and black with an estimated 5,600 in Africa; and greater unicorns, estimated at 3,600, Javanese, estimated at 74, and Sumatran, estimated at 80, in Asia.
Rhino numbers are declining, mainly due to poaching and habitat loss.
According to the zoo, southern white and black rhinos are mega-herbivores that graze on grasses — which helps preserve diverse African grasslands, increase plant diversity and provide grazing space for other animals that share their natural habitat, such as elephants, zebras and antelopes and gazelles.