Black Rhinos at Potter Park Zoo Are Making a World-Wide Impact Through Research

Black rhinoceros populations have declined drastically over the past 60 years.


Hunting and poaching of black rhinoceros have resulted in one of the most dramatic population declines, with wild black rhinoceros populations decreasing by more than 95% between 1960-1995 (IUCN red list of threatened species).

Since this precipitous decline, black rhinoceros have been listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List.

Due in part to local conservation efforts, there has been a slight growth in wild eastern black rhinoceros populations, however current estimates are still less than 5,500 individuals. This population number is low and the wild rhinoceros population is still at risk for extinction.

Zoos could provide protection of these species through captive breeding and reintroduction programs. However, very little is known about black rhinoceros captive breeding and current captive eastern black rhinoceros populations are not sustainable. There are less than 60 eastern black rhinos in the care of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Potter Park Zoo is committed to help save black rhinoceros and throughout Doppsee’s time at Potter Park, we have participated in many studies trying to improve the success of captive breeding of black rhinoceros.


What is Potter Park Zoo Doing to Contribute to Eastern Black Rhino Research?

Dr. Ronan, Potter Park Zoo Director of Animal Health, draws blood from Doppsee the black rhino. Doppsee’s incredible training and trusting relationship with her zookeepers allow for regular blood draws. This is voluntary, and she always has the choice to walk away.

In the last five years, the zoo has participated in studies ranging from investigating the effect of olfactory cue and courtship on breeding in black rhinoceros and to determining if measuring hormones in urine can predict when a female black rhinoceros will be most receptive to breeding by a male rhinoceros.

Future studies that the zoo is planning to participate in include looking at how the gut microbiome changes throughout the lactation period, efforts to determine the genetic diversity for the current AZA eastern black rhinoceros captive population, evaluating how black rhinoceros milk composition changes throughout lactation, and work on trying to improve artificial reproductive technology techniques.

Research is a critical component of modern AZA-accredited zoos. We have the opportunity to advance scientific knowledge of the animals in our care, enhance the conservation of wild populations, and engage and inspire the visiting public. AZA-accredited zoos take this role seriously. AZA-accredited zoos collectively reported spending approximately $25.1 million on research efforts that impacted nearly 600 species and subspecies. By supporting an AZA-accredited zoo, you’re supporting this critical research. Learn more about AZA’s impact on research:


AZA-Accredited zoos and aquariums contribute millions of dollars to wildlife research every year. By supporting your AZA zoo, you’re helping us continue to support this essential research.



Doppsee gave birth to her calf Jaali on Dec. 24, 2019. Jaali is the first black rhino calf born at Potter Park Zoo in its 100-year history.

Previous Black Rhino Studies Potter Park Zoo has participated in:

  • Behavioral and biological reasons for unsuccessful breeding in captive African black rhinos – olfactory stimulation as a method for improvement
  • Behavioral and biological reasons for unsuccessful breeding in captive African black rhinos – courtship
  • Ultrafiltration of rhino urine for detection of the luteinizing hormone surge association with ovulation
  • Collaborating on a study working towards being able to tell by a single serum sample what day of gestation it is and determine whether the placenta is producing the right amount and form of progesterone



Zookeeper Amy takes a milk sample from Doppsee the black rhino (her calf Jaali is seen in the background). Doppsee’s incredible training allows the animal care staff to collect milk for research.

Future Black Rhino Studies Potter Park Zoo Will Participate In:

  • A multi-institutional expansive study on black rhinos investigating assisted reproductive technologies, such as sex sorting in semen, freezing and storing semen, and establishing estrus synchronization protocols
  • Understanding the change in black rhino gut microbiome, serum proteome, serum metabolome and immune function: influence of origin, sex, diet, reproductive status and health
  • Genomic analysis of the managed eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) population in AZA institutions
  • Doppsee has allowed us to take milk samples from her! We’re submitting milk to look at changes in milk composition during lactation.