Cincinnati Zoo Mourns Loss of Indian Rhino

Posted July 4, 2014
Indian Rhino Nikki
Indian Rhino Nikki

CINCINNATI (July 4, 2014) – “Nikki”, an endangered Indian rhino, and one of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s most beloved and well-known animals, passed away in the early morning hours of Thursday, July 3.  She passed away in her indoor home, around 7 a.m., at the Zoo’s Rhino Reserve.

The female Indian rhino, born at the Toronto Zoo in 1991, was known worldwide for the world’s first successful artificial insemination (AI) procedure in this endangered rhino species.

In early June, Nikki’s keepers noticed swelling in her lower extremities as well as decreased appetite and mobility.   After running multiple tests and performing ultrasounds it was determined that a mass was growing on Nikki’s ovary, but the symptoms of her illness were not typical with ovarian tumors.  Keepers, veterinarians and scientists at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Lindner Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) consulted with rhino experts around the world and found no pattern in her symptoms which would point them to a definitive diagnosis.  They continued to treat Nikki’s symptoms, looking for answers, but had yet to find the cause.  A thorough post-mortem exam was done by the Zoo’s veterinary staff in consultation with CREW scientists.  Her case will be reviewed by a veterinary pathologist who specializes in zoo and wildlife animals.  The results will not be available for several months.

“Today the Cincinnati Zoo has lost one of its most beloved animals.  Nikki was charismatic and charmed anyone who had the privilege of knowing and loving her,” said Dr. Monica Stoops, Reproductive Physiologist at the Cincinnati Zoo. “Without a doubt, her absence will leave a great hole in our hearts and she will never be forgotten.”

The technology developed by Cincinnati Zoo CREW researchers to successfully produce a pregnancy via AI in the endangered Indian rhino represented a monumental scientific achievement. Nikki’s two pregnancies were critical milestones in developing the reproductive technology that could help save her species from extinction.  The legacy she leaves behind will be one of achievement and one that will bring global awareness to her species. “While we are all devastated by her loss, we could not be more honored to have worked with her and loved her over the years,” said Stoops.

Today only 60 Indian rhinos live in zoos in North America and approximately 3,300 remain in the wild. The Cincinnati Zoo is now home to just one female Indian rhino, “Manjula.”

Rhinos once ranged over large parts of Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia. Of the five living rhino species, the endangered Indian rhino is the second largest, weighing in at up to 6,000 pounds. It primarily inhabits the floodplain grasslands of northern India and southern Nepal. Poaching of wild Indian rhinos has been on the rise in the past years and some populations in Nepal and India are facing extinction.