All members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) participate in various European breeding programmes for endangered species. Actually, 'European population management programmes for endangered species' is a more fitting term, as there is much more to it than just breeding. This series of articles analyses the challenges biologists face concerning various specific animal species. In this article: the square-lipped rhinoceros.
At the time of writing, there are 186 rhinos in zoos worldwide, with a total of 728 animals: 307 males and 421 females. Although the northern square-lipped rhinoceros is practically extinct—unfortunately, only one is left in the wild—the southern square-lipped rhinoceros is still the most numerous of all living rhinoceros species in the wild. Not all of these 728 animals can be said to be one hundred per cent pure southern square-lipped rhinoceros, but at least 673 of them are. When we talk about 'square-lipped rhinoceros' in this text, we refer to this group of southern square-lipped rhinoceros. There are 75 zoos in Europe with a total of 294 square-lipped rhinoceros: 127 males and 167 females.
Burgers’ Zoo currently has eight square-lipped rhinoceros on exhibit: 5 males and 3 females. It is important to note that we only have one bull; the other four males are calves. When they are around three years old, these four young bulls will move to other zoos as part of the European population management programme.
In recent years, rhinoceros calves have regularly been on exhibit in Arnhem. In fact, breeding is going very well at Burgers' Zoo! Since 1977, 14 rhinos have given birth in the Safari. As a result, we have been one of Europe’ top five most successful breeders of square-lipped rhinoceros for several years now. Together with Serengeti-Park Hodenhagen in Germany, Knowsley Safari Park in England, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in England and Safaripark Beekse Bergen in The Netherlands, we form the top five breeders of rhinoceros in Europe. Our breeding success is largely explained by having a fertile bull and two fertile cows.
Adult square-lipped rhinoceros bulls live solitary lives in the wild. They mark their territory with dung piles and urine and only visit females during mating season. After mating, the male quickly goes on his way. A bull’s territory usually overlaps the habitats of several cows. In square-lipped rhinoceros, closely related cows, such as sisters, often form small groups with their young. The four other rhino species live mainly solitary lives, both bulls and cows. Zoos tend to have a combination of one adult bull and several adult cows, provided the zoo in question has the necessary living space available, of course.
In Arnhem, the (currently) eight broad-lipped rhinos live on a vast savannah plain in the Safari. They share their habitat with giraffes, zebras and various antelope species. We have another large outdoor area off-exhibit to house animals temporarily when necessary. For example, when a mother goes outside for the first time with her newborn, or if we want to separate the solitary bull temporarily. We often see the bull going his own way, separate from the group of cows with their calves. Adult cows usually do not tolerate the adult bull outside the mating season.
With our successful breeding results, we are providing an important boost for the European population management programme, which will ensure a healthy zoo population of this impressive species in the future.
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