BAKER — Zookeepers knew something spectacular was occurring late Sunday night.
They knew something was happening when they spotted BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo’s four giraffes standing near the back of their exhibit, peering over a wall and staring.
Turns out, the giraffes were watching the birth of a black rhinoceros.
Four days later on Thursday morning, 21-year-old black rhinoceros Gemstone wouldn’t stop pacing.
Gemstone and her newly born female calf had been safely tucked away in a holding area to give them time to bond since the birth.
But just after 8:30 a.m. Thursday, zookeepers opened a gate between the holding area and the black rhinoceros exhibit and ushered the pair into their new home.
Seconds after Gemstone and the calf walked into the exhibit, Gemstone started pacing up and down the dirt a couple of feet away from the gate.
The entire time Gemstone paced, her 4-day-old calf trotted next to her.
Gemstone looked frustrated and snorted several times to show her displeasure with the new surroundings.
Sam Winslow, the zoo’s assistant director and curator, said Gemstone was snorting because she was nervous about being in a new location with the calf.
The birth was the first for a black rhinoceros in North American captivity in the last 12 months, said Mary Woods, a spokeswoman for the zoo. It’s one of three such births in the past 12 months worldwide.
The calf doesn’t have a name, but Woods said the zoo plans to have a naming contest soon so the public can get involved.
On Thursday, the 75-pound calf closely followed her mother.
Like Gemstone, once the calf grows up, she could weigh up to 3,000 pounds, Winslow said. That’s bigger than a 2006 Toyota Corolla which weighs 2,615 pounds, according to Toyota’s official Web site.
Gemstone gave birth to the calf following a 16‰-month gestation period, Woods said.
The father is a black rhinoceros named Tatu.
Winslow said zoo officials need to keep Tatu away from his calf and her mother.
“He could kill the baby. That’s just the wild instinct of the male,” Winslow said.
The calf will live at BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo for two years, Winslow said.
After that, she will be shipped off to another zoo.
The black rhinoceros breeding at the zoo is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.
The plan is a population management and conservation program that manages the breeding of species in order to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population.
Woods said there are less than 4,000 black rhinoceroses left in Africa.
Winslow said poaching for rhinoceros horns is the main reason the animals are an endangered species. The horns are used in the Asian medicinal market, Winslow said.
Winslow said a black rhinoceros matures in five years and can reach the 3,000-pound weight in that time.
Winslow also said the baby rhinoceros will trot right next to Gemstone for the first two years of her life.
Awww, how cute! We'll have to go pay the newborn a visit soon!