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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 03:10 GMT
'World first' rhino birth on web
Sita in her paddock at Paignton Zoo
Remote control cameras have been installed in Sita's paddock

The birth of a rhino is to be captured on a BBC-run webcam in what zookeepers believe will be a world first.

Sita, a one-tonne black rhino, is due to give birth this month at Paignton Zoo, in Devon, where cameras are being trained on her paddock 24 hours a day.

The zoo said there was no existing footage of a black rhino being born in a zoo anywhere in the world.

The birth, the zoo's first rhino calf, is part of its on-going endangered species programme.

A first-time mother, 16-year-old Sita was moved from the Berlin Zoo to Devon in 2002.

Her mate, Kingo, is 23 years old, weighs in at 1.8 tonnes, and lives in an adjacent paddock.

It's good educational material and scientists will learn a lot from it
Philip Knowling, Paignton Zoo spokesman

Sita is expected to give birth later this month or in early February, following a 15-month gestation period.

She will stay with her calf until it is able to look after itself, but the zoo is also preparing to hand-rear it.

Senior keeper Jason Knight said: "We hope it will all go smoothly, but there is a chance that the calf could be rejected by its mother, or it could be still-born.

"We are hoping for the best but we must be prepared for any eventuality."

Scientific research

Zookeepers and animal scientists worldwide are expected to watch the images to learn more about the births, the zoo said.

A Paignton Zoo senior keeper with Sita
The zoo is preparing to hand-rear the calf if it is rejected by Sita

Philip Knowling, spokesman said: "It's good educational material and scientists will learn a lot from it."

The BBC has installed remote control and infrared cameras in the rhino house and British Telecom has sponsored a high-speed broadband line so the images can be streamed on-demand on the BBC Devon website.

Paignton Zoo is one of only four zoos in the UK with black rhinos and supports rhino conservation work in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

All five species of rhino are endangered, with black rhinos suffering a huge population decline of 96% during the 1970s and 80s.

Sita's story will be screened during the upcoming series of BBC1's Inside Out on Fridays from Friday.

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