LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Cincinnati Zoo has a new black rhino replica named "Charlotte" that is being used as a teaching tool. The anatomically-correct fiberglass replica is pregnant, and some guests and tours are learning how veterinarians monitor the animal's 15-month gestation period.

In a release, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden says its Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) is using "Charlotte" to allow visitors to experience the thrill of seeing and hearing a fetal heartbeat.

"We’re thrilled to be able to demonstrate what a reproductive physiologist does and spark interest in science and conservation research," said CREW Director Dr. Terri Roth in the release.

"Charlotte" shows program participants how rhinos are being trained by animal care staff at zoos to stand voluntarily for rectal ultrasound exams. They also learn how ultrasound technology works and how the information is used in rhino reproductive research.

“Student volunteers get to put on a plastic sleeve and actually perform a rectal ultrasound exam on Charlotte,” said Roth in the release. “The ultimate goal of this groundbreaking “immersion” experience, the first of its kind, is to locate the rhino fetus with beating heart, and our program leaders make sure that no participant leaves disappointed.”

The research done at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is critical to the rhino population. CREW scientists successfully bred Sumatran rhinos, one of the most endangered rhino species. Three calves have been born at the zoo. There are fewer than 80 in the world.

Reproductive physiologists from CREW work with the Zoo’s animal care staff to perform "awake" ultrasounds on a variety of animals, including a polar bear. They were the first to see an image of the now famous "Fiona," the hippo that was born six weeks premature.

"Charlotte" is being used to inspire future scientists, and she is an ambassador for her species. Eastern black rhinos, native to Eastern and Central Africa, are critically endangered due to poaching and habitat loss. Fewer than 5,000 black rhinos remain in the world.

The hands-on ultrasound experience is currently only available to student groups and private tours, but the Zoo plans to make it open to the public next year.

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