Staff at FFI were saddened to hear of the death of a female northern white rhino at San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California. One of the last of this subspecies, her death leaves just three northern white rhinos – all of which live at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Nola, the 41-year-old female rhino, joined the safari park in 1989. According to reports, she had become increasingly ill over the last week due to a bacterial infection, and on Sunday 22 November the difficult decision was taken to put her down.
Northern white rhinos have suffered a dramatic decline over the last three decades due in large part to the escalation of illegal hunting for the international rhino horn trade. Today they are almost certainly extinct in the wild.
In 2009, with support from Fauna & Flora International, the last four fertile individuals (two males and two females) were translocated from Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in the hope that a more natural environment would stimulate them to breed.
Unfortunately, no northern white calves have yet been born despite a number of matings, and rhino experts are now exploring other options involving inter-crossing with southern white rhinos to avoid inbreeding along with artificial reproduction technologies to generate future offspring with locally-adapted northern white rhino genes.
The death of Nola follows the loss of two males earlier this year, leaving just one male – Sudan – standing.
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Discussing the future of the northern white rhino, Fauna & Flora International’s Dr Rob Brett said, “It may be possible to generate and conserve future offspring from the remaining three animals along with stored biological material at some time in the future.
“This will depend not only on full collaboration and sharing of expertise between artificial reproduction specialists from South Africa, Germany and the US, but also on securing the funding and capacity required to establish dedicated lab and rhino management facilities at Ol Pejeta, so that any future offspring can live and thrive in a natural habitat.”
Ol Pejeta Conservancy is, together with Dvůr Králové Zoo, trying to raise US$1 million for this purpose with a GoFundMe campaign called Make a Rhino.
“We wouldn’t be asking people to donate if we didn’t truly believe that there was one last ray of hope for saving the northern white rhino,” said Ol Pejeta CEO, Richard Vigne. “It is by no means straightforward, but saving a subspecies from extinction in an age where science is capable of so many extraordinary things – I believe it can be done. All we need is for citizens around the world to club together to save the northern white rhino for future generations.”