A six-week-old male southern white rhino calf at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has been given the name Neville. Photo via Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. 

A six-week-old male southern white rhino calf at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has been given the name Neville.

The name was chosen by a generous supporter of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, in honor of a South African doctor who made a positive impact on the donor’s life, and on many others. Neville, and all rhinos, will be the focus of attention on World Rhino Day, Sept. 22— a day to bring increased awareness of rhinos and the importance of conservation efforts to protect these iconic animals.  

The energetic and confident calf is thriving and has been experiencing many new “firsts” since his birth on Aug. 6, including meeting other rhinos and gaining enough stamina and bulk to now explore the 2-acre main habitat at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center. He can be seen running at top speed around the expansive habitat, frequently stopping to splash around and roll in mud wallows. Rolling in mud is a natural behavior of rhinos. Rhinos coat themselves with a thick layer of mud that acts as a sunscreen and bug repellent, and helps to keep them cool.  

In addition to spending time with his mother, Livia, Neville was recently introduced to two of the other adult females residing at the Rhino Rescue Center: Victoria and Wallis. Under the watchful eyes of Livia, the calf often interacts with the two adults—sometimes engaging in playful behavior, including head-butting, or just curiously watching their activities.  

Born at approximately 110 pounds, Neville is nursing well and gaining 3 to 5 pounds a week. He currently weighs 250 pounds. When full-grown, at around 3 years of age, he could weigh between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds, and stand 6 feet tall at the shoulder. 

All rhino births are significant, and Neville’s birth represents an essential step in San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Northern White Rhino Initiative, showing Livia can carry a calf to term and care for her offspring. This is vitally important, as Livia is now among the female rhinos at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center who could potentially serve in the future as a surrogate mother to a northern white embryo. 

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Northern White Rhino Initiative is dedicated to saving the northern white rhino through innovative reproductive technologies, including artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. At the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center, an interdisciplinary team—including wildlife care and health teams, reproductive physiologists and geneticists—are working with southern white rhinos as a model for developing these advanced reproductive technologies, with the ultimate goal to establish a sustainable population of northern white rhinos using banked genetic material from the Frozen Zoo®, a critical component of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Biodiversity Banking efforts.  

Only two northern white rhinos remain on Earth, residing at a wildlife conservancy in Kenya. The work being done to conserve the northern white rhino may also be applied to other rhino species. 

There are five species of rhino: white (with a population estimated at 18,000) and black (estimated at 5,600) in Africa; greater one-horned (estimated at 3,600), Javan (estimated at 74) and Sumatran (estimated at 80) in Asia. Rhino numbers are dwindling, primarily due to poaching and habitat loss.  

Rhinos are very important to the ecosystems in which they reside. Southern white and black rhinos are mega-herbivores, grazing on grasses—which helps maintain the diverse African grasslands, increasing plant diversity and providing grazing areas for other animals that share their native habitat, such as elephants, zebras, antelope and gazelles.  

Visitors to the Safari Park on World Rhino Day can learn more about San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation initiatives to protect rhinos, while they participate in fun activities including creating a rhino-themed take-home craft, answering rhino trivia, face-painting and even playing in mud, like Neville! They also may be able to see Neville, Livia and other southern white rhinos living at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center, or rhinos in expansive savanna habitats, from the Africa Tram. Those looking for a unique experience may want to participate in a special visit to the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center and meet the rhinos on the Mission: Rhino Rescue Behind-the-Scenes Safari or Saving Giants Behind-the-Scenes Safari, or see rhinos on a Wildlife Safari or Cart Safari. Visit  here   



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Ellen Bullock