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Baby rhino to make his public debut — maybe

Lincoln Park Zoo staff tried offering food and treats for 3 hours to lure the youngster outside for the media.

An unnamed critically endangered eastern black rhinoceros calf, born on May 19, peeks out to his outdoor habitat for the first time at Lincoln Park Zoo, Tuesday morning, June 18, 2019.
An unnamed critically endangered eastern black rhinoceros calf, born on May 19, peeks out to his outdoor habitat for the first time at Lincoln Park Zoo, Tuesday morning, June 18, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Lincoln Park Zoo’s newest rhinoceros will make his public debut Wednesday — but no promises that visitors will actually get to see him.

The yet-to-be-named eastern black rhinoceros calf, born May 19, had access to his outdoor habitat for the first time Tuesday. But three hours after the habitat gates were opened, the baby rhino had just barely peeked outside.

“Every day, the animals have the choice to be in whatever part of the habitat,” said Mike Murray, the zoo’s curator of mammals. “This is not unusual for a rhino to choose not to go somewhere.”

That doesn’t mean zoo staff didn’t try. Trainers used food and treats to try to lure the calf’s mother, 13-year-old Kapuki, outside, hoping her baby would follow. Zoo staff even tried opening and closing the habitat doors and rerouting the animals to try to get them into the sun.

A Lincoln Park Zoo staffer uses bread in an attempt to coax an eastern black rhinoceros calf, born on May 19, to his outdoor habitat for the first time, Tuesday morning, June 18, 2019.
A Lincoln Park Zoo staffer uses bread in an attempt to coax an eastern black rhinoceros calf, born on May 19, to his outdoor habitat for the first time, Tuesday morning, June 18, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Murray said zoo staff knew the baby rhino was ready to go outside; he’d spent a month bonding with his mother inside the habitat, and met all the milestones in terms of size, strength and activity.

The baby doesn’t yet have a name, but Murray said they are working on choosing one.

In the past few months, the zoo has welcomed two gorilla babies and four red wolf pups; like the rhino, both are endangered species. Murray said most of the other babies weren’t as hesitant to step into the sunlight as the 100-plus-pound rhino calf, but that all animals have days where they don’t want to go outside.

“We want everyone to see this adorable, important calf,” Murray said, “but also as a manager, I like giving them that option.”

The calf’s birth was notable because the species, native to south and east Africa, is critically endangered in the wild due to rhino poaching for the animal’s horns.

“Every birth is really, really important and we celebrate them because it helps us ensure a survival of the species,” he said.