FORT WORTH -- In May 1990, two young greater one-horned rhinoceroses arrived at the Fort Worth Zoo in handmade wooden crates, a gift from the King of Nepal at the request of the Bass family.
Arun, the male, and Aarati, the female, had been captured in the wild by a Nepali wildlife conservationist who wanted the animals in safety as a hedge against extinction. The zoo tried for years to breed the unrelated pair because of their genetic importance, but for a variety of reasons, it never happened.
Years went by, and Aarati died of medical problems.
The zoo finally got its wish in the spring of 2011. Arun impregnated another female, Shanti, on loan from the San Francisco Zoo. That baby was born Aug. 16 (yes, gestation was 16 months long) and introduced to zoo visitors Thursday, a 110-pound miniature version of her 25-year-old mother and 23-year-old father.
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"I've seen 25 or 30 baby rhinos in my career, but never one of these," said Michael Fouraker, director of the Fort Worth Zoo. "This is a very significant event for the zoo, and it is for me personally too."
Rhinos have always been important to the zoo. It is the only zoo in Texas to breed black rhinos, white rhinos and greater one-horned rhinos. Black rhinos are critically endangered, and the greater one-horned rhinos are endangered with only about 2,800 believed to still be in the wild in India and Nepal.
Lee Bass, the youngest of the four Bass brothers, and the late Harry Tennison founded the International Rhino Foundation to fund rhino conservation in Africa and Asia. Ed Bass, long interested in Nepal and wildlife conservation, was the driving force behind the Asian rhinos coming to Fort Worth via the Nepali royal family.
Hemanta Mishra, who captured Arun and Aarati in his homeland, told the Star-Telegram in 2008 that he wanted them sent to a U.S. zoo to protect them and because it helped him raise a significant amount of money to continue saving animals in the wild.
"If for any reason they got wiped out in the wild, we would have a base in captivity," said Mishra, who now lives in Virginia. "We would have a right to the offspring. My real motivation was to have a gene pool in captivity."
Aarati never had a calf. Arun sired a number of calves over the years but never at Fort Worth until this female baby. The baby, a spunky thing who likes to trot just a little ahead of mother, does not yet have a name. The zoo is sponsoring a naming contest on its Facebook page.
"She was on her feet 10 minutes after birth," said Ron Surratt, director of animal collections for the park.
She appears to be perfectly healthy. Zoo keepers have mostly kept their distance out of respect for the mother. Mom weighs 3,900 pounds and has a rather forceful way of signaling her displeasure if her baby isn't close by.
Shanti will nurse the baby for about a year and will likely keep close to her for a year after that.
"It depends on the behavior of her and her mother, but eventually we will have to move her out," he said. "They are solitary animals."
Arun, the sire, is in another enclosure. Males and females only get together for breeding, not parenting. "Papa could care less" about the baby, Fouraker said.
The greater one-horned rhino, with its distinctive-looking, armor-like skin, has recovered from near-extinction but poaching is a serious threat, said Fouraker. The horns, and nothing else, are the prize.
"Poaching has gone from a cottage industry where a guy is trying to feed his family to a big-money organization that equips poachers with AK-47s," he said.
Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547