YOU MAY NOT have been expecting a baby odd-toed ungulate in Sonoma County. However, Eesha, the pregnant rhinoceros, definitely is. This, according to a recent announcement by those in the know at Safari West in Sonoma County. 

“We are delighted to announce the pregnancy of Eesha, our Southern white rhinoceros,” the March 24 announcement said. “This historic birth will be Eesha’s first calf, and it will be the first rhinoceros ever born at Safari West and in Sonoma County.”

Safari West is a 400-acre African wildlife preserve outside Santa Rosa. The baby is expected to arrive sometime in the next two months. Rhinoceroses are odd-toed ungulates — herbivores that feed on grasses, leaves, and other plant parts. 

Putting aside the cognitive dissonance attendant upon the idea of a rhinoceros in Sonoma (Safari West also has animals including gazelles, giraffes, laughing kookaburra and zebras), the pregnancy has considerable significance. 

Like cough drops with legs

Southern white rhinoceroses are listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They are at huge risk from poaching, which along with a major drought has caused their population to decline in recent years, according to Save the Rhino International, a London-based charity. 

Besides, once the young’un makes his or her appearance, the International Creature Cuteness Quotient is bound to soar by about 20 points. Baby rhinoceroses (rhinoceros or rhinoceri are also correct, according to Merriam-Webster) are outstandingly photogenic. They resemble a large brown cough drop lozenge on four short legs, with tiny sleepy eyes, sporting big ears at the top of their heads. 

The upcoming birth is cause for celebration for many reasons.  

“[At 18,] Eesha is older for being a first-time mom. Most rhinos are closer to 10 or 11 years old when they have a baby.”

Erika Defer, Safari West animal manager and research director

“Eesha is older for being a first-time mom,” said Erika Defer, one of the wildlife preserve’s animal managers and its director of research. 

“Most rhinos are closer to 10 or 11 years old when they have a baby,” Defer said. 

Eesha is 18 years old. 

“Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you’re past your prime,” 60-year-old Michelle Yeoh said upon receiving a Best Actress award this month. Eighteen-year-old Eesha is certainly an excellent example. 

“She’s showing us all that she’s not past her prime,” Defer said. 

The pregnancy has indeed been a long time coming. Eesha arrived at Safari West in the summer of 2008. 

For years, staffers hoped Eesha might contribute to the growth of rhino populations, but she never showed much interest in the male rhinos at Safari West. 

Picky, picky, picky, Eesha. But seriously, as we know, it’s never a good idea to fall for the first rhino who courts you, right? 

Love is in the air

All that changed in 2021. 

“Luckily, Mr. Rhino Right came along,” said Safari West spokeswoman Aphrodite Caserta. 

At that time, Eesha was introduced to a new male named Ongava. According to Safari West officials, Ongava and Eesha “soon began displaying the assertive behaviors often seen in rhino courtship,” which apparently translates to “Rhino Stud Ongava got game,” and here we are in 2023 with a baby on the way. 

Eesha, a Southern white rhinoceros living at Safari West, a wildlife preserve outside of Santa Rosa, is pregnant. (Ray Mabry/Safari West)

According to Defer, rhino gestation is usually anywhere from 16 to 18 months. The program manager and researcher started out at Safari West as Eesha’s keeper; they both came to the wildlife preserve around the same time, “and we both have grown,” Defer said. 

Defer will attend the birth of Eesha’s child — er, calf — along with another animal manager, the lead rhino keeper and the Safari West veterinarian. As the birth approaches, the team is keeping a close eye on Eesha, checking her vital signs, her behavior, the position of the baby and overall monitoring her closely. 

Based on the veterinarian’s current assessment, Safari West officials say they are optimistic for a safe birth and a healthy calf. 

Defer said, “We can’t wait to see the little one’s face. It’s going to be really exciting.”