CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Fiona remains the undisputed queen of the Cincinnati Zoo, at once diva, icon and bell cow. But two exhibits away — and in countless social media feeds — Ajani Joe is making quite a name for himself.
The Eastern black rhinoceros was born Aug. 21. Immediately he captivated the zoo’s fans and followers with his doelike eyes, pointy ears and mounded, soon-to-be horns.
The zoo announced a naming contest days later. It went on to raise thousands for Ajani Joe’s care and the feeding of his mother, Seyia.
Zoo staff had input on the name (to avoid a “Rhino McRhino-face” situation, they say.) But in the end, contest winner Martha Wolf picked something personal. ‘Ajani’ means ‘he who wins the struggle' as a tribute to Wolf’s father, Joe.
“My dad has been a rock recently as my mom’s primary caretaker,” Wolf said when the name was announced, “and I hope the little rhino will be strong like him!”
Ajani Joe may not yet be as strong as his mother — or his namesake — but the calf’s keepers describe him as “spunky” and “curious,” according to Curator of Mammals Christina Gorsuch.
That much is evident from videos released on the zoo’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
The videos reveal a rambunctious calf who willingly wallows in the mud and who, according to Gorsuch, wants to play when his mother just wants to rest. (Some human mothers might sympathize.)
But Ajani Joe is more than just adorable — more, that is, than a social media sensation in the making. He’s also among the last members of a species tragically diminished by habitat loss and poaching.
Though still under 200 lbs., Ajani Joe could eventually reach ten times that size. And when he does, were he born in the wild, his fully grown horns would place him directly in the crosshairs of a global, lucrative and illicit rhino trade.
It’s estimated no more than 5,000 black rhinos remain in the world.
“Eastern black rhinos are critically endangered and have such a long gestation that every calf born is incredibly important for the population,” said Gorsuch. "This calf is the first black rhino calf born this year in North America and only the eighth of its kind born in the last three years in North America.”
The zoo says the public is able to see Ajani Joe and Seyia in their outdoor habitat, weather and health depending.
Zoo memberships offer unlimited visits, early entry, free parking and free admission to PNC Festival of Lights. Memberships are currently 10-percent off.