By Verna Gates
BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) - A necropsy will be performed on a four-month old rhinoceros believed to have been the first of its species to be born through artificial insemination in the United States, officials from the Montgomery Zoo in Alabama said on Monday.
The endangered Indian rhino, which had become a popular attraction, was found dead on Friday, the zoo said.
"It was a shock. We definitely feel the loss of Ethan," Steve Pierce, the zoo's program services manager, said of the rhinoceros.
The calf was named after Ethan Gilman, an Alabama boy who was kidnapped from his school bus in January and held in an underground by his abductor for six days before being rescued.
Gilman had toured the zoo and was fascinated by the calf's then-pregnant mother, Pierce said.
The successful artificial insemination had encouraged preservationists who hope they can rebuild the species' population, according to the Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at the Cincinnati Zoo, which partnered in the project.
There are only 60 Indian rhinos in captivity in North America and an estimated 2,500 in the wild. Natural breeding attempts had failed due to the species' tendency to exhibit severe aggression during mating, the Cincinnati Zoo website said.
The wildlife center used frozen sperm from Himal, the resident male at the Montgomery Zoo, to impregnate a female named Jeta.
Ethan was born on June 5, and the cause of his death was not immediately known, Pierce said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Gevirtz)