Hellabrunn Zoo expects imminent birth of rhino calf

Rapti, the mother-to-be rhinoceros, is healthy and happy - and thus ready for the imminent birth.

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / Marisa Segadelli

Somewhat more alert than before her pregnancy, Rapti now tends to prick up her ears whenever she detects a new sound or smell. The great moment is fast approaching: Hellabrunn’s female rhino is expected to give birth in the next 14 days.

Despite this, little has changed in Rapti's daily routine and everything is the same as usual in the Rhino House: Rapti likes to bathe in the morning and then spends a large part of the day dozing or sleeping. Her daily diet - including during the pregnancy - consists of hay (22 kg), grass (4 kg), and rutabagas, carrots and cucumber (6 kg in total). She is able to move between her outdoor and indoor enclosure as she pleases. The only thing that has changed during this period is that the moat has been drained as a precaution as it presents a risk of the young calf drowning. The bathing pool in the indoor enclosure has been also separated by a net for the same reason.

"We eagerly await the birth of the baby rhino, which we expect will be born in August. Rapti is doing very well. We hope that the birth is without complications and that the calf is healthy," says zoo director Rasem Baban "Indian rhinos are endangered. Therefore the birth of a calf at our zoo is very important for the conservation of this species. Rapti is also important genetically as she comes from Nepal."

Rapti has put on quite a lot of weight since becoming pregnant. Approximately 150 kg. She currently tips the scales at 1,985 kg. At birth, a newborn rhino calf weighs between 50 and 60 kg. Since the successful mating of Rapti and Niko, which took place on the night of 25 - 26 April 2014, the pregnancy has been without complications. The gestation period for rhinoceroses is between 460-490 days (about 16 months).

Rapti's previous pregnancies have not been as fortunate: On 22 September 2012, after a 16-month gestation period, Rapti gave birth to a male calf. The 50 kg baby appeared healthy after birth, but died three days later of an infection that he had probably contracted in the womb. Despite a detailed pathological examination, the exact cause of death could not be determined. And ten years ago, during her very first pregnancy she suffered a stillbirth. In general, the chances of survival for first-born rhinos are quite slim, both in zoos and in the wild. The European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) recommends that Rapti and Niko (both 26 years old) produce more offspring, particularly as the Indian rhinoceros is under threat in the wild.

About the two Indian rhinoceroses at Hellabrunn Zoo
The rhinoceroses Niko and Rapti have known each other since 1990. In August 1989, Rapti travelled from her native Nepal to Munich. Niko (born on 27.11.1988) arrived at Hellabrunn shortly after from the Wilhelma Zoo in Stuttgart.

General information about Indian Rhinoceros
With a shoulder height of up to 185 cm and weighing more than 2,000 kg, the Indian rhinoceros is the largest of the three species of Asian rhinoceroses. Unlike its two African relatives and the Sumatran rhinoceros, it has only one nasal horn (similar to the Javan rhinoceros), which can grow up to 20 cm. Indian rhinoceroses tend to rub their horn on the ground or on stones, often resulting in the horn being worn down to a thick knob.

Today its natural habitat is confined to a few areas in Bhutan, southern Nepal, the Terai Arc Landscape and seven refuges in the two Indian states of West Bengal and Assam. Approximately 2,750 rhinos live in the wild. In addition to habitat loss, the rhino population has been brought to close extinction by hunting. The rhino horn is a valuable commodity - the powdered form is highly valued in traditional Asian medicine, even though it has no proven medical benefit. The horn mostly consists of keratin, which is also found in human fingernails and hair.