A new baby southern white rhino was born Sunday evening up in Sonoma County, the first of that species ever born at Safari West, the 30-year-old private wildlife preserve.
Sunday was a big day at Safari West, the African wildlife preserve in Santa Rosa that's home to almost 1,000 animals spread across 80+ species. The park's female adult rhinoceros, Eesha gave birth to a 150-pound baby calf, who has yet to be named. And we don't know the gender either — Safari West is keeping that under wraps and planning to host a gender-reveal party.
"We feel fortunate and honored to contribute to the growth of global rhino populations and aid in the conservation of this magnificent protected species," Safari West said in a statement.
"This is the best day of my life," said one of Eesha’s handlers, Lori McNeal, speaking to the Press Democrat. McNeal reportedly "had come to work at Safari West from a zoo out of state because of her love of rhinoceroses."
The unnamed calf arrived Sunday at 5:30 p.m. looking "wrinkly, dark, and damp at first," per the Press Democrat, and within minutes was on its feet "if somewhat unsteadily and mystified looking."
Breeding rhinoceroses in captivity has been notably difficult around the world, as Mongabay explains. The southern white rhino is considered a "near threatened" species, with animals sometimes poached for their horns. And the subspecies known as the northern black rhino is already extinct.
As KPIX reports, Eesha came to Safari West 15 years ago, in 2008, and showed little interest in breeding with the only male rhino the park had during that time. A new male, Ongava, was introduced two years ago, and it looks like those two were more compatible. Rhinos take 16 months and more to gestate, and Eesha began showing signs of pregnancy last year.
Safari West was on "Baby Rhino Watch" in recent weeks, and posted the video below to Facebook showing the baby visibly kicking inside Eesha's belly.
The Monterey Zoo commented on Facebook, "Such a glorious and wonderful achievement, WELL DONE, Peter, Nancy and the Safari West Team!!! We couldn’t be more envious and happy for you."
The San Francisco Zoo had its own rhino births to celebrate over the years — prolific mother Elly, a black rhinoceros, had 14 calves over the years, before she passed away at age 46 in 2017. Her grand-calf Boone, who is now a teenager, still resides at the zoo.
Safari West is privately owned by Peter and Nancy Long, and has welcomed in the public for "safari" tours since 1993. They now offer day-trip experiences and overnight "glamping" in safari tents, as well as a full-service restaurant. Safari West is one of only six private wildlife preserves in the U.S. that is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.