Southern white rhinos conceived through artificial insemination are crucial to preserving the species. Photo by Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Global announced Monday that a team of nearly 40 veterinarians fitted a new cast on one of the Safari Park’s southern white rhinos to mend a broken toe.

The park’s animal care specialists noticed the injury to the rhino, named Maoto, during a routine checkup last month. Safari Park veterinarians confirmed the break with an X-ray examination and elected to place a cast on Maoto’s foot.

They placed another cast on Maoto’s foot this week after a follow-up, fortifying it with rubber tread from car tires to ensure it does not break under his weight. According to zoo officials, the 4,500-pound rhino’s toe is showing signs of healing properly.

“During the past six weeks, Maoto has been able to move around easily and still maintain a positive demeanor through the entire process,” lead keeper Jonnie Capiro said. “He’s been an outstanding patient along the way!”

Maoto is a contributer to the zoo’s longer-term goal of recovering the northern white rhino, a distant relative of the southern white rhino. Currently, only two northern white rhinos still exist on the planet and both are female. Maoto is the father of southern white rhino calf Edward, who was conceived via artificial insemination last year and born in July.

Zoo officials aim to use stem cells and preserved northern white rhino cells to birth a northern white rhino calf within 10-20 years. The zoo’s southern white rhinos would serve as surrogates for the northern white rhino embryos through artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization or an embryo transfer.

If the plan proves successful, researchers could attempt similar assisted reproduction techniques with the critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

Maoto and the rest of the Safari Park’s southern white rhino herd can be viewed at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center from the park’s Africa Tram.

— City News Service

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