It had been a long time since the expecting rhino fell pregnant, and the big moment was quickly approaching. In fact, when the baby started to come, there was no warning, and there was no one present to help. The mommy-to-be just lay on her side, and the birthing suddenly began.
The animal in question was an Indian rhinoceros called Rapti. Although she was born in Nepal, shortly after her birth Rapti was moved to Munich. Her new home was the Hellabrunn Zoo nature reserve, where she has lived ever since.
It was there that she met a fellow Indian rhino called Nikolaus (Nico for short). The pair mated, and this was big news – for while Rapti had previously given birth to two calves fathered by Nico, their lives had both been tragically cut short.
Initially, Rapti fell pregnant in 2005. But it wasn’t to be, as the calf was sadly delivered stillborn. The couple’s next attempt at having a baby also ended in heartbreak. Despite baby number two seemingly being born healthy, it died due to an infection three days later.
Not only was that a sad outcome for Hellabrunn, but it was also sad for the Indian rhinoceros species as a whole. After all, their horns are a highly desired ingredient in traditional Eastern medicine, and the animals are often targeted by poachers. This has caused the Indian rhino to become an endangered species.
But despite Rapti’s past troubles, she and Nico became expecting parents again in April 2014. Due to Rapti’s previous difficulties, Hellabrunn kept a very close eye on her. Thankfully, though, none of their examinations brought any problems to light.
As a result, the updates provided by Hellabrunn on its website showed that the staff couldn’t have been happier. “We eagerly await the birth of the baby rhino, which we expect will be born in August,” said Rasem Baban, the zoo’s director. “Rapti is doing very well.”
“Rapti is genetically a very important Indian rhino as she came to us directly from the Nepalese wild,” he continued. “The species is endangered, which makes the birth in a zoo particularly important for conservation.” That being the case, Rapti’s pregnancy was big news.
Still, the calf wasn’t due to be born until the following summer. That made the rhino’s pregnancy term a whopping 16 months. But despite this being huge by human standards, Baban said it was normal for her species.
And Baban’s predictions proved accurate, as Rapti’s birthing began on August 31, 2015. That was more than a year after her pregnancy had been discovered. In fact, the gestation lasted 492 days. By way of contrast, the average human pregnancy spans around 280 days.
Poor Rapti must have been exhausted by the time her baby was due. Nevertheless, she did it all by herself without any assistance from doctors – an unthinkable feat for most human mothers. Hellabrunn described the birthing as “by the book.”
Not only did the birth go smoothly, but the whole event was also captured on video by the nature reserve. It started off much like a human birth: Rapti’s waters broke. And that was accompanied by the first sight of her calf.
Unlike with most human births, though, Rapti’s baby was born feet first, which would be a complication known as a breech birth by our standards. Actually, there is just a 3 percent chance of this happening for human mothers. For Rapti, however, it wasn’t a problem.
After a bit of a struggle – which was to be expected, given how long she had been carrying – Rapti’s baby appeared. Unlike human babies, the newborn rhino exited the womb in its amniotic sac. This is the bag of fluid inside which the baby had developed in Rapti’s womb.
An amniotic birth is very rare in humans, but for a rhino it’s not an unusual occurrence. Following her baby’s arrival, Rapti stood up and turned her body. The motion severed the umbilical cord and breached the sac, exposing the newborn to the world.
Rapti immediately turned to her baby, and the little battler had already started moving. With some help from mommy, the calf – a boy – even got to his feet! As he did so, Hellabrunn’s staff rushed in to check that the rhinos were in good health.
Rapti was seemingly happy to see them, too, and the proud mommy went to her enclosure’s door for some congratulations. The baby was named Puri, and he received excellent care from his mother. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the newborn.
Baby Puri was taken ill just days after his birth and consequently was rushed away for medical treatment. Staff were no doubt fearful of history repeating itself for Rapti’s baby, and they did everything they could for mother and calf. Thankfully, their care paid off.
After medical treatment, Puri recovered swiftly and has been doing well ever since. Every newborn rhino is a beacon of hope for a species being hunted to extinction, and Puri is no exception. The zoo’s director has even stated that Puri could play a crucial role in the future of his species.
“The rhino bull is of great importance for the global conservation breeding programme,” Rasem Baban explained. “Hopefully he will bear many offspring.” The future’s certainly looking a little brighter for the Indian rhinoceros thanks to Rapti and her family.