The southern white rhino Edward samples a birthday box of hay. Photo by Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global

The first southern white rhinoceros born via artificial insemination under the San Diego Zoo’s program to recover lost species has turned one year old.

A birthday celebration on July 28 was held in honor of Edward at the Safari Park’s Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center. Birthday guests included his mother Victoria, 8-month-old female calf Future, and her mother Amani.

The area was decorated with colorful boxes filled with the rhinos’ favorite hay, a big birthday banner and a specially made mud wallow.

The artificial insemination and successful birth of Edward represented a critical step in the zoo’s effort to genetically recover the northern white rhino, a distant subspecies. Only two northern white rhinos currently remain on Earth, and both are female.

“Even though he doesn’t know it’s his birthday, it is very special to see Edward — a healthy, robust rhino – running around, enjoying his special treats,” said Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive sciences at San Diego Zoo Global. “These births are symbols of the great progress made toward the eventual goal of transfer of northern white rhino embryos and hope for the future of the critically endangered northern white rhino.”

To reach the ultimate goal of successfully producing a northern white rhino, scientists will attempt to convert genetic material preserved from 12 individual northern white rhinos in the zoo’s Frozen Zoo into stem cells that could develop into sperm and eggs. Then southern white rhinos would serve as birth mothers.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.