On a stormy afternoon, at about 2.00pm, on 16th August 1999, New Zealand’s first White Rhinoceros was born under a tree in Orana Wildlife Park’s rhino paddock.
For Orana’s staff it was a quick delivery – by the time they discovered that mother Utani had gone into labour and had rushed to assist her, the little male calf was already on the ground.
With bated breath, they watched the new awkward family, fully aware that worse weather was still expected. The difficult decision was made to intervene and move the calf into a Boma (rhino night shelter) as it was essential for the new-born to be warm and protected from the elements – especially as Utani appeared to be uninterested her new calf.
While the other adult rhinos were distracted, a park truck was driven into the display paddock and the baby loaded onto the deck. As they slowly drove toward the Boma, staff were delighted to see Utani calmly follow behind. Once there, as the terrible southerly storm pounded Canterbury, the calf got to his feet and had his first suckle – encouraged by his mother without staff having to intervene again. The pair wouldn’t be alone though until the end of the following day as the keepers took shifts to watch over their new precious charge; after all, the calf was not only New Zealand’s first born Rhino but one of the world’s first births to captive born parents. He would be later named Ibutho which means “The Warrior” – owing to the fact that he survived and thrived against all odds.
Orana had been a member of the managed zoo-based breeding programme for White Rhino since the introduction of four Rhinos (Stumpy, Cyrano, Utani and Mapenzi) to the park in 1986. Coming all the way from San Diego Wild Animal Park, it had been the pairing of Cyrano and Utani (plus a lot of hard work) that finally resulted in Ibutho’s birth.
Although a mating pair of Rhino is hard to miss, there are no promises that the female has even conceived. Not wanting to risk waiting for a 16-18 month gestation period of what could become an historic pregnancy, Orana approached the Canterbury Health Laboratory with a sample of Utani’s dung for testing. Following advice from the United States, the lab was able to confirm the pregnancy.
With Ibutho approaching his fourth birthday and with Orana needing to reintroduce his dad back to the park’s breeding females, it was time for Orana’s “Warrior” to leave. On 25th May 2004, after many months of preparation to travel overseas, Ibutho was successfully transferred to Monarto Zoo, South Australia.
Orana has proudly had two more rhino births since – 2010 and again in 2014. The reproductive rate of captive born rhinos in zoos is low so Orana is proud of its contribution to date.
Today, as Ibutho nears his 18th birthday, he continues to charm animal lovers with his huge and impressive personality.
*Image courtesy of Orana Wildife Trust – http://www.oranawildlifepark.co.nz