Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is proud to announce the birth of an Indian rhinoceros calf. Born on Friday, August 30 (my second week working at the zoo), this little guy is the first rhinoceros born in the zoo’s 120-year history.
This calf is 1 of 82 Indian rhino living in the United States making him an important addition to the only 3,500-3,600 left in the world. The birth of this rhino gives insight into rhino breeding and rhino conservation.
A white lion cub, a very rare color morph, has been causing quite a stir amongst visitors a Kruger National Park in the Republic of South Africa (mostly because he's so darn cute). This little rarity is a member of the Satara Pride and is one of only 13 wild white lions. White lions are so rare that none were seen in the wild from the early 1990's until 2006. And since 2006, only 16 white lions have been born and in only 5 lion prides, all in the Kruger/Timbavati region.
Why are they so rare?
White lions are a result of leucism, or lack of pigment which results in light coat and eyes. In lions, leucism is caused by getting a copy of a gene which has a recessive mutation from both mom and dad. For two tawny lions (the typical brown/tan color) to have a white lion cub, both lions would have to be carriers of the recessive allele, meaning they have the recessive copy but they display the dominant one.
It is quite possible that the statistics are way more complicated and that there may even be more than one way to be 'white.' It has been speculated that light coat in white lions with yellow eyes may we caused by a different gene than in white lions with blue eyes (the TYR gene versus a gene similar to what creates white cats and white tigers). Genomic analysis of big cats is just beginning but don't you worry, we're getting to the bottom of it!
This story has been floating around the interwebs for the past week or two and I understand why it keeps being re-posted on social media.... its seemingly hilarious!
Ai Hin, a 6 year old panda at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Center, the same place some of our San Diego pandas now call home, is said to have faked a pregnancy to get special treatment, including more food, air conditioning and increased attention. Chengdu reported Ai Hin was showing signs of pregnancy in the form of reduced appetite, less mobility and a surge of progestational hormone. But, it could be possible she was pregnant but reabsorbed the fetus. Surges in hormones are hard to fake and it is fairly common for pandas to lose a pregnancy, reabsorbing the fetus so it appears as if there was no pregnancy at all. Reabsorption could happen because there is a fetal defect or death, the mother has a disease which affects her ability to properly care of the fetus, there is a hormonal disruption, or environmental conditions are not conducive to caring for the baby. At the San Diego Zoo, they have seen this phenomenon with the use of thermal imaging and ultra sound. Bai Yun was suspected to be carrying twins on more than one occasion but has only ever given birth to one cub. This kind of fetal reabsorption is called "prenatal litter pruning". The mechanism isn't exactly known but could be an adaptive result of pandas not being able to care for more than one cub in natural, wild conditions.
Who knows. Maybe Panda McLiar Pants wasn't lying after all but her body decided this just wasn't the time. She's only 6 and has never been a mother. Maybe she just wasn't ready yet!!
Su Lin, third cub to Bai Yun and second of the Bai & Gao Gao super team, has given birth to twins! This boy and girl pair are her second and third contributions to the panda gene pool.
Su Lin was one of the pandas I was trained on. From 2007 to 2010 I watched her grow from a newly weaned cub to a full grown, independent panda before being sent to China. All captive pandas are owned by China, on loan as part of a research agreement. Part of the agreement requires all pandas born to loaned research pandas to be returned to China when they turn 3. Su Lin's 3rd birthday, however, was only a matter of months after the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 which leveled much of the Wolong National Nature Reserve and the Panda Research Center where she was supposed to be sent. So, Su Lin stayed with us at the San Diego Zoo until she was 5 and traveled to China along side her sister Zhen Zhen shortly after her 3rd birthday.
Turns out twins might run in the family. This was actually Su Lin's second set of twins. Her first had one healthy cub and a still born. Her older half-sister, Hua Mei, has given birth to three sets of twins and Bai Yun, although none came to term, has been suspected to have been developing twins when vets did ultrasounds during pregnancy. In the wild, having twins isn't advantageous. The amount of energy it takes to raise two cubs far exceeds what mom is capable of providing so the panda mother is forced to pick the stronger cub to raise. Lucky for these ladies, they are part of breeding facilities equipped with all the "energy" needed to provide for both cubs.
It is so wonderful to see all the success of the San Diego Zoo's Panda Research Facility's breeding program. Not only have six cubs been born in the program but they have given birth to 14 cubs of their own! So many sets of twins really help them up their numbers.