LINCOLN PARK — Members of Lincoln Park Zoo's staff held back tears Tuesday as the zoo's newborn rhino, King, saw daylight for the first time.
King, a critically endangered black rhino, was a project five years in the making for the zoo.
Since his birth on Aug. 26, King has been growing quickly from 60 pounds to 200 as of Monday.
"The poaching pressure the species is facing is just enormous ..." said Dr. Rachel Santymire, Director of the Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology. "So, to bring another one into the world is just amazing — and he’s just so cute.”
King is the first rhino to be born at Lincoln Park Zoo in 25 years.
The zoo waited a long time for King's arrival, as a rhino's gestation period lasts up to 16 months.
When the gates to the rhino yard opened at exactly 11 a.m. Tuesday, King slowly peeked his horn-less head out and his mother Kapuki let out a grunt.
"I tried not to cry because it was so exciting," Santymire said.
King needed to get back and follow her lead, and for the first 15 minutes in daylight, King trotted along behind his mom while she showed him around his new home.
"We've gotten a lot of congratulations from a lot of zoos, and we have been congratulating each other, too," said Mark Kamhout, curator of mammals for Lincoln Park Zoo.
It's a tough task to breed rhinos, as the animals have an incredibly small window for conception, according to the zoo.
Only one or two are born each year in U.S. zoos, according to Kamhout, and there are only about 5,000 in the wild.
Santymire, whose task was to monitor hormone levels in the rhino's feces, played an integral role in the conception.
Because the zoo's male and female rhinos live separately, getting them together to mate is a delicate task and requires careful planning.
Zoo researchers discovered that female rhinos scrape their back legs like a dog spreading hormonal data through the odor of their feces, which the males pick up on.
King's daddy, Maku, would act aggressively whenever the time was right and marked his territory, according to Santymire.
"The next day when he stopped being aggressive was the day that they put them together," she said. "So he was sort of being a sweet rhino."
As of Tuesday afternoon, the baby rhino was available for public viewing and will likely spend a lot of time getting used to his new surroundings, according to zoo staff.
"We are going to let them explore," Kamhout said. "Basically, they are going to tell us by their behavior how long they are going to stay outside."