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Baby rhino born in Alabama zoo makes history

Alabama's Montgomery Zoo recently welcomed the first rhinoceros produced through artificial insemination to be born and thrive in a U.S. zoo. Arriving on June 5, the Indian rhino calf weighed in at 90 pounds. He has already gained more than 12 pounds.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Dr. Monica Stoops, a reproductive physiologist from the Cincinnati Zoo's Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife, started the insemination process in February 2012. She's been working on artificial insemination in rhinos since 2004, and her previous two attempts failed. This time, she had success with a 12-year-old rhino named Jeta.

The father is a Montgomery Zoo rhino named Himal, whose sperm was collected in 2004 and stored at the Cincinnati Zoo's CryoBioBank. Even though both were living at the Montgomery Zoo, they were deemed too aggressive to mate naturally -- a common issue among rhinos.

The baby rhino is named "Ethan" in honor of Ethan Gilman, the Alabama kindergartner who was kidnapped from his school bus and held hostage for nearly a week in January.

Montgomery Zoo experts estimate that there are 60 Indian rhinos in captivity in North America and about 2,500 left in the wild. Artificial insemination offers a way to maintain genetic diversity within the species.

Similar reproductive technology was used to produce a baby white rhino at the Budapest Zoo in 2008. Others have been produced when the mother rhino was inseminated with fresh sperm, but Ethan is the second to be born using frozen and thawed sperm.