A southern white rhino named Victoria gave birth to a healthy baby boy at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park after a 493-day pregnancy, the zoo announced on Monday.
The rhino calf, which the zoo referred to as “a tiny tank puppy” on Instagram, is the first successful artificial insemination birth of a southern white rhino in North America, the zoo said in a statement.
Zoo officials say that Victoria “did extremely well and remained calm during the 30-minute labor” on Sunday, and that the calf is nursing well and the pair are bonding.
The artificial insemination birth is a big deal for the zoo and the southern white rhino, which is classified as “Near Threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. There are an estimated 18,000 southern white rhinos remaining in the wild.
It’s an even bigger deal for the northern white rhino.
Conservationists say there are only two northern white rhinos alive on Earth and they are both female. The last male died last year.
“We are so pleased Victoria and the calf are doing well. She is very attentive to her baby, and the calf is up and walking, and nursing frequently. Not only are we thankful for a healthy calf, but this birth is significant, as it also represents a critical step in our effort to save the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction,” Barbara Durrant, the Director of Reproductive Physiology at the Zoological Society of San Diego said in a statement.
The northern and southern white rhinos are distinct subspecies, but a study published last year in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B has revealed that the two subspecies are closer than previously thought.
The zoo said that once the processes of artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer are perfected on southern white rhinos, they could be used on other endangered species.
Southern white rhinos could one day even be used as surrogate mothers for northern white rhino embryos.
Researchers are optimistic that a northern white rhino calf could be born from these processes within 10 to 20 years.
Victoria and her calf are resting and bonding and will be off exhibit for an undisclosed period of time, the zoo said. The calf will eventually be introduced to the other five females at the zoo.
The calf should have company in the fall.
The zoo says a female named Amani is also pregnant by artificial insemination and is scheduled to give birth in September or October.