The zookeepers at Cuba’s National Zoo are especially proud of Ale, a pudgy, gray-brown baby white rhinoceros born earlier this month on the outskirts of capital Havana.
For starters, he’s cute. Baby rhinos look similar to adults, but have a stub in place of the horn and thus, are more docile in appearance.
But the white rhino is also a threatened species, and zoos the world across have been asked to reproduce them in captivity in the hope of creating a gene bank that will help preserve the species should it go extinct in the wild.
“It is a great privilege for us to be able to contribute to the rescue of a species as threatened as the white rhinoceros,” said Alexander Arango, a Cuban zoo specialist in exotic wildlife, as he watched the newborn graze on a patch of grass beside his mother, Katherine.
Cuba, says Arango, now has the second largest population of white rhinos of any zoo in Latin America – a total of 8 – thanks to Ale and the birth of his sister, Mel, in 2019. Before that, it had been nearly two decades since the previous birth.
In a Caribbean island nation with limited resources and far from Africa, the increasing success in reproduction is a point of pride, the zookeepers told Reuters.
White rhinos, among the largest land mammals, have suffered in recent years as poaching has increased across their home range, primarily across southern Africa. That has put more pressure on zoos to maintain the species, the zookeepers said.
Cuba’s National Zoo is a favorite attraction for Cubans, with 1,473 specimens of more than 120 species, including large animals such as elephants, rhinos and giraffes.