A Sumatran rhinoceros was born at a sanctuary in Lampung, following three other births in captivity over the past century. Hope is renewed for the animal, which numbers less than 200 worldwide.
In the beginning the marriage seemed fine. Andalas had chosen Ratu, over Rosa or Bina.
Then Ratu emerged with wounds on her face and body, a victim of Andalas's violent ways. But the marriage had to be maintained, albeit monitored constantly. Ratu seemed to have no objection. Besides, Andalas had his share of wounds as well. Apparently, the two frequently battled one another. They were always butting each other's heads, biting, thrusting, and occasionally running after each other. For Ratu's own safety, their relationship was strictly monitored, including the moments when they coupled.
The earth literally shook when Andalas mounted Ratu fr. Ratu weighs around 500 kilograms. And Andalas 650 kilograms.
Two years after the couple mated in December 2009, Ratu became pregnant. However, three months later Ratu suffered a miscarriage. Three months later, the thick-skinned Ratu again conceived, but this lasted only for a month. Andalas was determined however. Once again Ratu became pregnant in March 2011. On Saturday early morning two weeks ago, within the 100-hectare Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary of Way Kambas, Lampung, Andatu was born. The name was derived from the names of Andalas and Ratu.
It was the first time a Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) was naturally born as an in-captivity birth in 124 years.
"The same attempt had failed for over a century," said Dedi Chandra, 28, head of the veterinary team, after the delivery. "New hopes have arisen for the conservation of Sumatran rhinos," Dedi declared. The problem is that only around 200 Sumatran rhinos are left in the world. In fact, this one of four other rhino species finds it difficult to bear offspring.
Just imagine that in their whole life, Sumatran rhinos only produce their young four times. Only one baby rhino is born with every birth, and the female rhino carries the baby for 15 months. The mating time lasts for 24 days in a month. The female however is only fertile for five days—on the 21st day till the 25th of each month. Female rhinos are unwilling to get close to their mates unless they are in full fertile form and male rhinos do not care for partners that are not ovulating.
Susie Ellis, a staffer of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), is sure that in-captivity rhino breeding in Way Kambas could be applied to the other places whether it is at Bukit Barisan Selatan, the Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra's natural forest zone, up to Sabah, Malaysia. "The future population of rhinos can keep increasing. It's been proven here," she said.
Nonetheless, rhino matchmaking is by no means, easy. The cost is not small either. The IRF, for instance, has spent US$22,500. "The fund is for meals, officers' pay, drugs, equipment and maintenance," added Susie.
It still excludes the cost of transporting Andalas to Way Kambas in 2007. The 11-year-old was born and grew up at the Zoo of Cincinnati, USA. It turned out indeed to be an interesting experience for Andalas's matchmakers.
There was no significant trouble to introduce Andalas to the three female rhinos in captive breeding: Ratu (12), from Way Kambas; Rosa (12), from Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park; and Bina (29), from Bengkulu. Andalas promptly fell for Ratu, originally a wild rhino rescued by Way Kambas National Park officers from being chased by locals who had initially chased it believing it was a boar.
There was then a reception. It was divided into several programs. The first was called the pre-copulation phase. Ratu let out a special guttural cry, as she raised and wagged her tail while gushing urine around her. It was a signal for Andalas that she was ready to mate. Andalas later smelled the urine, searching for its owner, and after finding the owner sniffed at her head, snout, rump and outer genitals. During this phase, Andalas was also frequently urinating in certain places.
As the initial reception was over, both entered the phase of copulation. Here the earth trembled to bear the weight of the two animals combined, reaching more than one ton. But such rituals were already familiar and expected. The fresh knowledge arising from the birth of Andatu was the process of natural delivery. "There are still minimum references on rhino delivery," noted Dedi.
Therefore, many international experts were involved in Ratu's labor. Besides Dedi and Susie, the team included Benn Bryan from Tarongan Western Plains Zoo, Australia; Scott Citinodari from White Oak Conservation Center, USA; Bibhab K. Talukdar from Asian Rhino Specialist Group, IUCN; and of course, Andatu's handler from the Cincinnati Zoo, Paul Reinhart. "It was also Paul who helped the delivery of Andalas 11 years ago," said Dedi.
Ratu's signs of pressing delivery were noticeable a week earlier. Her appetite declined drastically at the time. "It was because she needed to empty her stomach so that food wouldn't disturb the exit of the fetus," said Dedi. Sadly, Dedi and his team could not determine the exact date and time of the delivery.
The team thus had to be on top alert. Two days before the birthday, Ratu looked anxious. The team calmed her by providing a water bucket and wooden bars. "But the bucket was broken, the wood pushed and drawn," said Executive Director of the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, Widodo S. Ramono.
Four hours before labor, Ratu got very uneasy. "The hours were filled with tension," recalled Dedi, who works with the Indonesian Rhino Foundation. Who was more anxious was unclear: the delivery team or Ratu.
Two hours nearing her labor, Ratu got really wild. She was moving to and fro, now and again scratching a tree with the front legs, entering into a mud hole for short periods of time. She was also repeatedly lying on her side and back, standing, and lying down again. "It might be Ratu's strategy to make the position of her fetus face downward, so that the infant would be born more easily," said Dedi.
For those two hours, Ratu also frequently cried and screamed loudly. "We were observing through CCTV, almost breathless. Everybody was silent," said Widodo.
Luckily there was Paul Reinhart, who calmed the team. "He was the only expert experienced in helping rhinos in labor. So he was the midwife," Dedi pointed out. Exactly at 11:30pm, a purplish blue placenta started coming emerging out of Ratu. The team switched off the lamp. The officer recording the delivery was only given a flashlight. As Ratu seemed disturbed, the flashlight was turned off. In the dark, when Andatu was born.
"As the flashlight was on, the placenta was no longer found," said Widodo. The light was directed around Ratu. Twin ears were seen moving. "At that moment all of us were shouting. It was louder than screaming for goals at a soccer match."
"My heart was beating so hard at the time," said Reinhart. He was so happy to witness the birth of Andatu. Reinhart has been experienced in monitoring the mating of rhinos, taking care of pregnant rhinos, helping them through their labor and looking after baby rhinos at the Cincinnati Zoo, but this was something new Andatu was naturally delivered. "Here everything proceeded very normally," said the lover of camels and rhinos.
Two and a half hours later Andatu suckled from its mother. Ratu even licked Andatu to clean its body. It was an interesting event because based on one reference: "Mother rhinos usually refuse to allow their young to suckle," said Dedi. That is why the team prepared colostrum (first milk secretion) and cans of formula milk. Still according to the book, baby rhinos should drink colostrum from their mothers at least until the first 10 hours after birth.
"Young rhinos begin to graze and feed themselves like their mothers after two months," explained Widodo. In the morning, some six hours following the birth, Andatu was able to stand. Andatu still wobbling tailed along Ratu wherever she was going.
Now Ratu and Andatu live by themselves in a special zone covering 30 square meters, called boma. Salt is scattered round the boma. "We fear tigers, wild boars, lizards and snakes may come because there's a fishy smell after the birth," anticipated Widodo.
Andatu cannot yet be weighed now. "Any touch by human hands would make Ratu stressful and reject her baby's presence," said Dedi. But Andatu looks healthy. Every day it suckles 30 times, each time lasting for 5-10 minutes. Andatu is estimated to drink 10 liters of milk from its mother daily.
Fortunately Ratu has regained her appetite. She daily consumes 20 kilograms of plants. Ratu is very fond of eating 15 kinds of plants and tubers, from the leaves of forest jackfruit, red caraway roots, to fig tree leaves. "All of them are found in the forest of Way Kambas, with its 250 species of vegetation," added Dedi.
But where is Andalas? He is separated until Ratu is ready to conceive in about three years. "The lactation period of baby rhinos is two years," he made it clear.
What is more, there are Rosa and Bina. Andalas is clever in choosing his mates. He is now getting close to Rosa. Like the time when he was mated with Ratu, Andalas also persuades Rosa to fight: butting, biting, chasing each other. "It is in him to do so. He likes to get bloody when it comes to romancing rhinos," concluded Dedi.
By Mahardika Satria Hadi, Nurochman Arrazie (Lampung)
No. 45/12, July 03, 2012
Ratu, a Sumatran rhino, and her calf—only several days old—at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary of Way Kambas, Lampung, June 25.