Overnight Rhino Birth Watch

A rhino was born just after sunset on Wednesday, February 7, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. We call the mother “Kacy” and this will be her third calf. When a female rhinoceros goes into labor, it is standard procedure to have keepers keep a 24-hour watch on the mother and the calf.

It is a cold night for a baby fresh out of the warm womb, and as I watch the calf stumble along his patient mother, a sense of quiet peace blankets me. The young calf whimpers out a series of soft honks, communicating to his mother that he is hungry and needs to nurse. I realize I would be at a great loss of these experiences if I had my nose buried in my electronics. My phone has been set aside, the radio is off, and all I can hear are Kacy’s snorts of protection.

On a birth watch, the keeper’s responsibility is to make trained observations. With an ethogram in hand, behaviors such as how often the calf nurses, the duration of the nursing, how attentive the mother is, how the rest of the rhino herd reacts, how herds of other species react, and any other noteworthy behaviors must be tracked.


It’s just before six a.m. This calf has been living in a dark world its entire life and is about to see his first sunrise. I get to share it with him. All he knows is this one hillside, and now will experience so much more. It’s the reason I love spending my days at the Safari Park; because of the complex acres this calf will explore, the relationships that he will get to build living in his dynamic herd, and all the interactions that he will be able to have with the other species exploring their environment, just as he is.

The 65-acre East Africa exhibit recreates much of what the animals would experience in the wild: the plant materials in the exhibit are edible, which is important for any grazing species, and the animals socialize within their herds to win over the opposite sex with displays of fitness. And of course, the animals are able to reproduce and care for their offspring, which Kacy and her brand new calf illustrate.


As the dawn rolls in, other animals notice the new addition among them. Specifically, our giraffe have been staring from across the watering hole. What they are thinking, who can tell? But Kacy’s first calf, Kayode, used to barrel through the exhibit like a wrecking ball with juvenile energy. And what this new calf will bring to the dynamics of the animals in our care will be exciting to witness.

Sylvester Martinez is senior field keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park