Why the Potter Park Zoo's baby rhino is such a big deal

The baby rhino hasn't been named yet, and won't be visible to the public for a few months...
The baby rhino hasn't been named yet, and won't be visible to the public for a few months (source: Potter Park Zoo). (WILX)
Published: Dec. 27, 2019 at 5:57 PM EST
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Well, he's your favorite baby mammal, and the pictures of him are going viral.

The rare black rhino calf at Potter Park Zoo, who hasn't been named yet, is part of a critically endangered species. The zoo says his birth is really important for the species survival.

It's not every day a baby black rhino is born in the U.S. The Potter Park Zoo's baby rhino is the third to be born this year, which means he's a pretty big deal.

"The fact that we were able to breed Phineas and Doppsee and have a successful calf...that's huge for us and huge for the black rhino population," zookeeper Adrianna Davidson said.

There are now 54 black rhinos in the U.S., and about 5,000 left in the wild. This is mainly because of habitat loss and some cultures poach the rhinos for their horns.

"They poach their horns and also use it as medicine as well," Davidson explained. "So it's trying to change a culture that is very reliant on these rhino horns, but actually rhino horns are made of keratin, which is the same as our hair and fingernails."

To help the population, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has whats called a

, so they are the ones that recommend what zoos and rhinos are best to breed.

"They basically have a computer that has all of the animals that are in AZA-accredited zoos with all of their genetics. So we're trying to keep animals that have the most diverse genetics. So with that, they'll say this animal from this zoo, will be paired up with this animal from this zoo," she said.

Once Potter Park got the go-ahead, Phineas, the baby rhino's dad, was brought in from Texas for the occasion. But rhinos also aren't the easiest to breed. The zoo tried to breed Doppsee and Phineas back in 2017, but that didn't work.

"Didn't go too well, she didn't take. So all of last year and 2018 and over the summer we were putting them together."

With only about 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild, Potter Park's baby rhino is a step to keeping the species alive.

"So if it weren't for us to try to breed these guys we would just have what's left in the wild and they're being poached at such a high rate that they could be gone within our lifetime," Davidson added.

Zoos across the US get recommendations from the AZA usually yearly. They said there could be another rhino baby here in Lansing in the future if breeding Phineas and Doppsee again is recommended.

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