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Captive Breeding of the Okapi and the Indian Rhino

Tanganyika, renowned for its commitment to wildlife preservation, stands at the forefront of some of the most impactful conservation efforts today. Its mission—to strive to strengthen the connections between people and the natural world by providing real experiences that are entertaining and educational—rings louder today than ever before, thanks to its captive breeding programs that are saving vulnerable and endangered species. 

Captive breeding programs, often termed conservation breeding programs, serve as vital tools in the battle against the extinction of various animal species. In the context of zoos, they provide an avenue to house diverse species without the controversial practice of capturing new individuals from the wild. 

More significantly, these programs can throw a lifeline to those species hanging by a thread, whose populations have dwindled alarmingly in the wild either due to human activities or climate change

An integral part of these programs involves rigorous research and conservation education. In fact, a significant research endeavor is required to forge successful methods for nurturing a particular species in captivity and eventually reintroducing it to its natural habitat. The end goal is not merely to keep these creatures enclosed but to give them another chance at thriving in the wild.

A captive breeding program usually unfolds in three phases:

  • Founding phase: Establishing an initial population from the wild.
  • Growth phase: Expanding the population while maintaining genetic diversity.
  • Capacity phase: Managing the population within the limitations of available resources

As for the goals of these programs, they are often diverse and span both short-term and long-term objectives:

  • Short-term goal: Preserving the gene pool and minimizing losses in diversity while tackling the root causes of the species’ decline.
  • Long-term goal: Establishing self-sustaining populations in the wild.

One should note that the concept of captive breeding isn’t new. For thousands of years, humans have conducted captive breeding of fish and other aquatic species for sustenance or to amplify harvest opportunities. The landscape of these programs, however, has evolved and now focuses more on conservation efforts.

In instances where a species is extinct or on the brink of extinction in the wild, captive breeding becomes the only viable option. Despite this, it is important to remember that the cornerstone of conservation is habitat protection and enhancement. 

As such, captive breeding and reintroduction programs typically play a subsidiary role compared to the efforts geared toward safeguarding and improving habitats.

In this blog post, we’re exploring the powerful and poignant tale of Tanganyika’s captive breeding work with the Okapi and the Indian Rhino. We’ll look into the unique life histories of these two fascinating species, understand the threats they face in the wild, and explore the intricacies of captive breeding in a world increasingly void of natural habitats.

Our journey will uncover not only the science behind the preservation of these majestic creatures but also the passion and perseverance of those working tirelessly behind the scenes at Tanganyika.

Tanganyika’s Okapi Breeding Programs

Before we discuss how Tanganyika’s okapi breeding programs work, it is worth understanding the okapi species. 

captive breeding
We love our Okapi as you can see!

Often referred to as the ‘African Unicorn‘ or the ‘Forest Giraffe’, the okapi seamlessly merges the physical traits of a deer and a zebra. As the sole living relative of the giraffe, the Okapi introduces a fascinating glimpse into the abundant biodiversity of the African rainforest.

The Okapi is native to the Ituri Rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which remains its sole dwelling in the wild. To acclimate to this wet environment, the Okapi boasts a thick, oily fur that repels the frequent rain. In addition, scent glands at the bottom of its hooves enable it to mark its territory with ease.

An adept master of camouflage, the Okapi owes its elusive nature to its unique brown and white stripes. These stripes, present on its rump, mirror the streaks of sunlight filtering through the thick foliage, allowing the Okapi to blend effortlessly into its dense rainforest home.

Sadly, the Okapi is not exempt from the perils that haunt many of the planet’s species. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, the Okapi is endangered, with its population potentially halved over the past two decades due to predation and human hunting.

The Marvel of New Life: Tanganyika Wildlife Park’s Okapi Breeding Program

The captive breeding and nurturing of okapis can be quite a complex yet remarkable process. At Tanganyika Wildlife Park, a dedicated team of animal experts and carers has taken on the exciting endeavor of breeding these majestic animals, ensuring their well-being and propagation.

Key aspects of the Okapi birthing process include:

  • Duration: The birthing process usually spans around 2-4 hours, with first-time mothers or those of a more shy disposition tending towards the longer duration.
  • Position: Although females have the ability to give birth in both standing and laying positions, they often spend most of their time standing.
  • Calf presentation: Typically, the front feet emerge first, followed closely by the nose, with one foot slightly ahead of the other. The soles of the forelimbs should ideally be pointing downwards. Upward-pointing soles indicate a breech presentation, which can be more challenging.

Newborn calves are impressive in their size. They typically weigh between 30-66lbs, averaging 56lbs, and stand at a height of 28-33 inches at the shoulder. Their growth is rapid, with their weight expected to double in one month and triple by the end of the second month. Also, they usually gain approximately 6 inches in shoulder height during the second month.

The stars of Tanganyika Wildlife Park’s okapi population are Moyo, a female, and Udumu, a male. These Okapis of breeding age have only been introduced to each other through fence contact. However, Moyo is expected to be pregnant, not with Udumu, but with Amaranta, a male Okapi that sadly had to be euthanized in 2022 due to health complications.

Moyo’s estrous cycle lasts around 13 days, with an estrus period lasting between 2-5 days. It is believed that she mated with Amaranta in March 2022, setting her estimated due date to late May or early June 2023. During her pregnancy, Moyo’s weight experienced fluctuations and was notably low from the 4th to the 8th month of gestation. Nonetheless, her pregnancy was confirmed through a transabdominal ultrasound after the detection of a placenta in her uterus.

The team at Tanganyika Wildlife Park is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new calf and remains committed to ensuring the well-being of the mother-to-be. Their dedication shines a spotlight on the importance of breeding programs in conserving endangered species like the Okapi and promoting biodiversity.

Support the efforts of Tanganyika Wildlife Park by paying our okapi a visit today. Your contribution will go a long way in helping preserve these majestic creatures.

Tanganyika’s Indian Rhino Captive Breeding Program 

In addition to the okapi, Tanganyika also has a captive breeding program for the Indian rhino. The Indian rhino, also known as the greater one-horned rhino or Rhinoceros unicornis, holds the title of the largest rhino species on earth. Boasting some distinctive physical characteristics that set them apart from their African kin, these massive beasts carry an awe-inspiring presence.

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Here we have MarJon, our Indian Rhino baby!

A sight to behold, the Indian rhino is easily identified by its single black horn, about 8-25 inches long, and its grey-brown hide marked by deep skin folds. This segmented hide gives the creature an almost mythical, armor-plated appearance. It’s not just for show, though; the flexible skin between the thicker hide “plates” allows for ample movement as the rhinoceros ambles across its habitat.

In the past, the Indian rhino was a familiar sight across the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. However, over time, uncontrolled hunting for sport, killing as agricultural pests, and relentless poaching for their horns brought the species to the brink of extinction.

The 20th century painted a grim picture for the Greater One-Horned Rhino, with population estimates plunging to around 200 in the wild. By 1908, it was feared that only 12 rhinos were left in Kaziranga, India. Today, thanks to strict protection and diligent management by Indian and Nepalese wildlife authorities, the species has rebounded dramatically. population numbers have risen to around 4,000, with rhinos thriving in northeastern India and the Terai grasslands of Nepal.

Although the Indian rhinoceros is still listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, there’s a glimmer of hope as the current population trend is on an upward trajectory.

Captive Breeding of Indian Rhinos at Tanganyika Wildlife Park: A Closer Look

For the Indian rhino, captive breeding programs in zoos such as Tanganyika is an intricate process that must be honed over time. From identifying signs of parturition to tracking growth rates, the Park’s hands-on approach has contributed to the understanding and conservation of this magnificent species

Key signs indicating impending parturition in Indian rhinoceroses are:

  • Milk production
  • Increased irritability
  • Increase in teat size
  • Potential mild vaginal prolapse during defecation (observed 30 days prior to birth)
  • Wax plugs on nipples and vulva swelling (14 days prior)
  • A combination of inappetence, significantly increased irritability, restlessness, and dramatic swelling of the udder and vulva (1-2 days prior)

The birthing process usually begins overnight or in the early morning, marked by visible changes in the female rhino, such as increased agitation, restlessness, pacing, and vocalizations. The birth itself can occur within 30 minutes to 3 hours once contractions become visible and fetal membranes are exposed. A touching maternal instinct is exhibited as the female often turns to touch her nose to the newborn calf.

At birth, the calves are already impressively large, weighing between 80 and 170 lbs. They exhibit rapid growth, doubling their weight in the first month and reaching around 10 times their birth weight by one year. This growth rate is notably faster for rhinos in human care than those in native habitats.

In terms of breeding frequency in breeding programs, the average interbirth interval is 34 months, which is shorter when compared to the 42-49 months in the wild. 

Tanganyika Wildlife Park currently houses two Indian rhinoceroses for this animal breeding plan , Monica and Stacks. Their successful breeding in the past has resulted in a male calf named MarJon. Monica’s estrous cycle lasts approximately 49 days, with a range of 34-84 days. Both Monica and Stacks have displayed species-typical behaviors during introductions and estrus.

During Monica’s first pregnancy, she was notably inactive during the early months of gestation but became more active after the 6th month. Signs of impending parturition were observed approximately 40 days before birth. On the day of parturition, Monica was notably restless, aggressive, and inappetent. MarJon was born while Monica was lying down, and he was able to stand and nurse shortly after birth.

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Baby MarJon was born at the park thanks to our incredible breeding programs.

The Impact of Captive Breeding Programs

In the face of the sixth mass extinction, the conservation of endangered species is a race against the clock. Tanganyika’s captive breeding programs for the Okapi and the Indian Rhino are, in essence, a proactive response to this crisis, a testament to our capacity to intervene and help safeguard the future of biodiversity on our planet.

These programs have broad implications, extending well beyond the survival of the okapi and the Indian rhino. Each successful breeding initiative stands as a learning opportunity, providing valuable insights that can guide future conservation efforts for other endangered species.

As we look toward the future, the importance of captive breeding programs like those at Tanganyika cannot be overstated. They represent hope and serve as a critical lifeline for endangered species around the globe. Through continued investment, research, and global collaboration, we can ensure the survival and flourishing of the rich tapestry of life on our planet.

For more on animal conservation and other interesting facts on animals, read our blog and pay us a visit.

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