The birth highlighted how zoos increasingly use social media as a two-pronged tool, fueling their marketing efforts as well as raising awareness and conservation money for struggling species. Fiona, a hippopotamus born in 2017 at the Cincinnati Zoo, became a social media star and a local celebrity in part because the zoo documented her every move since birth. April, a giraffe in rural New York who became an internet sensation after her pregnancy was live-streamed to millions, is popular in her own right.
While the birth of a new black rhino calf warrants a celebration, the species is still considered critically endangered and could face extinction because of illegal poaching and loss of habitat, the zoo said. There are about 50 black rhinos in the care of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Over all, there are only about 5,000 black rhinos left in the world, according to Save the Rhino, an organization that works to conserve several rhino species, including the Sumatran rhino, whose population is less than 80.
The world’s black rhino population declined by 98 percent from 1960 to 1995, falling to a historical low of less than 2,500, largely because of European hunters and settlers, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The species has doubled in population since then, but it is still considered critically endangered.
About 98 percent of black rhinos in the world are in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. South Africa is home to 40 percent of the species.
Humans are the only predators to rhinos, who are hunted and killed for their horns, according to the foundation. There is a high demand for the horns in Asia, where they are used for ornamental carvings and are sometimes falsely advertised as a treatment for hangovers, impotence and even cancer.
In Michigan, at least, hopes are high for the species.
“This is a monumental moment for Potter Park Zoo that has taken our staff years of planning and hard work,” Cynthia Wagner, the zoo director, said in the news release. “We are dedicated to conserving rhinos and couldn’t be more excited about this successful black rhino birth.”