5 Jan 2016
Mud, glorious mud! Two-month-old Eastern black rhino calf, Gabe, charges through a mud wallow

The bolshie youngster was seen slipping and sliding in the mud as he charged around with 13-year-old mum, Ema Elsa.

Kim Wood, assistant team manager of rhinos at Chester Zoo, said:

Rhinos love nothing more than to roll around and play in fresh mud and it was great to see Gabe charge right in and enjoy getting messy.

With the start of spring bringing in some warmer weather, wallowing in mud is great way for our rhinos to cool off and it also helps to keep the rhinos’ skin nice and healthy. We really do give them the five star spa treatment!

We’re really pleased with how Gabe is developing. He’s gaining in confidence with every passing day and helping us to raise more awareness of the terrible plight that his species is facing up to in the wild where, sadly, the Eastern black rhino is being illegally hunted to very edge of extinction.

Black rhino populations have dropped by more than 95% over the last 50 years due to a global surge in illegal poaching for their horns, which continues to devastate the species.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the animals as critically endangered since 2000 – their wild numbers currently estimated at just 740 across Africa.

Kim explains:

There is increasing demand for rhino horn in some Asian countries where it’s believed to have healing properties, even though it’s made mainly from keratin, the same material as fingernails. It’s pushed its value through the roof – rhino horn fetches more per gram on the black market than both gold and cocaine. As a result, rhinos across Africa are being slaughtered on a daily basis. After having their horns hacked off, they are left to slowly die.

Rhinos have been on our planet for five million years and it’s absolutely imperative that we do whatever we can to protect them. We must not let them become just another addition to the ongoing list of magnificent animals to become extinct in our lifetime.

Chester Zoo is one of just a handful of institutions in the world that is working with conservation organisations in Africa – including Save the Rhino International and the International Rhino Foundation – to ensure the long-term survival of rhinos in the wild. Areas of the zoo’s support, both through funding and through the provision of its expertise, include Tsavo, Chyulu and Laikipia in Kenya and Mkomazi in Tanzania.

The zoo is also responsible for carefully coordinating the breeding programme for the species in zoos across the whole of Europe, which is working to maintain a genetically viable insurance population of the species.

Two-month-old Eastern black rhino calf with mum, Ema Elsa, 8

About black rhinos

  • Gabe was born on January 16
  • Mum Ema Elsa is 13-years-old. She was born on 02/11/2002 and has now had three calves at Chester Zoo – Bashira, Chanua and Gabe
  • Dad Kifaru is 31-years-old (born 21/10/1984). He arrived at Chester Zoo in 2014 from Hannover Zoo in Germany. He has now sired four calves with this being his first at Chester Zoo. His other offspring are called Samira, Saya and Taco
  • The arrival of Gabe brings the total number of Eastern black rhinos at Chester Zoo to 10

Chester Zoo and the conservation-breeding of black rhinos

  • We’ve been successful in breeding a number of critically endangered black rhinos and plays a vital part in the international breeding programme, helping to ensure an insurance population exists in the event that black rhino become extinct in the wild
  • The latest arrival means that six Eastern black rhino calves have now been born at the zoo in the last seven years
  • The zoo’s director general, Dr Mark Pilgrim, is responsible for managing the European breeding programme for the Eastern black rhino
  • Ground-breaking science by a team at Chester Zoo team has contributed to the zoo’s successful black rhino breeding programme. Zoo researchers have spent several years carefully monitoring the hormone levels of their resident female rhinos in a bid to discover the best time to introduce them to a potential partner. These hormone levels are monitored by analysing rhino dung. Tracking hormones gives an insight into what is going on inside the animals. It can help tell things like whether or not an animal is a seasonal breeder, whether it has reached puberty, whether it’s cycling on a regular basis or not and when the optimum time to introduce a male to a female is, as well as diagnose pregnancies and estimate when an animal will give birth
  • The zoo is currently home to 10 critically endangered Eastern black rhinos and three greater one-horned rhinos

Chester Zoo and rhino conservation in Africa

  • Eastern black rhinos are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • The growing price of rhino horn has led to a massive decline in rhino numbers, which have decreased by up to 97% across Africa in the past 50 years. 2014 was branded ‘the worst poaching year on record’ by leading conservationists after over 1,200 rhinos were hunted in South Africa alone – a 9,000% increase from 2007
  • Chester Zoo is one of the main organisations fighting for the survival of Eastern black rhino and has long supported conservation efforts in the wild to try and protect black rhinos and continues to fund, and provide expertise, to numerous sanctuaries in Africa
  • The Chester Zoo Black Rhino Programme started in 1999, in partnership with Save the Rhino, providing substantial financial support to Kenya Wildlife Service to enable the translocation of 20 black rhinos to wildlife reserves in the Tsavo region of Kenya
  • Recently the zoo has also provided support for rhinos in Chyulu Hills National Park and Laikipia District in Kenya and Mkomazi in Tanzania
  • In June 2015, the world’s leading experts on rhinos and rhino conservation came together in Europe for the first time when Chester Zoo hosted over 100 zookeepers, researchers, scientists and conservationists from the USA, Australia, Africa and Europe to debate issues surrounding the five species of rhino – black, greater one-horned, white, Sumatran and Javan rhino