For the northern white rhinos – a species that once grazed southern Chad, the Central African Republic, southwestern Sudan, northeastern Zaire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and northwestern Uganda, this appears to be the bitter end.
In 1960 there were more than 2,000 northern white rhinos but in 1984 those numbers dropped to a mere 15 individuals at Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The species will soon go the same way that the western black rhinoceros did in 2011 – extinct. Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, Africa, Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are the final homes of the world’s last five remaining northern white rhinos – Sudan, Nola, Nabire, Najin and Fatu.
The last two of the three remaining males – Suni (25) and Angalifu (44) passed away in the months of October and December of 2014 respectively. In 2012, Suni mated twice with the now 26-year old female named Najin in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, but the breeding failed. His sperm has collected and frozen. Angalifu lived at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and unsuccessful attempts were made to mate him and now 41-year old Nola.
As if this was not disheartening enough, the following problems have presented themselves which prevent the last five individuals from reproducing:
- The last male northern white rhino, Sudan at 41 years of age has low sperm count.
- Najin has weak hind legs and may not be able to support the weight of a male, and previous attempts with artificial insemination at Dvur Králové Zoo failed.
- Fatu at 15 is likely infertile.
- Nola is confirmed infertile.
- The 32-year old Nabire’s eggs have been harvested from her one healthy ovary.
- Breeding of Sudan with three of the females is not possible as he is the father of both Najin and Nabire, and the grandfather of Fatu.
Scientists are now looking to in-vitro fertilization to help the species, and it appears that only Suni’s and another male named Saut's sperm stored in IZW Berlin can be used for mating purposes seeing as neither Angalifu's nor Sudan's sperm is viable. The real question is, will we learn from our mistakes before other rhino sub-species follow suit? There are a mere 40 Javan rhinos and less than 300 Sumatran rhinos left.
All the rhinos at the conservancy are now under armed guard 24 hours a day to protect them from poaching. The various protections in place include horn-imbedded transmitters, watchtowers, fences, drones, guard dogs
If you would like to help out Ol Pejeta Conservancy in protecting their last three northern white rhinos, Helping Rhinos has partnered with the former non-profit organization for the "Adopt A Rhino" program where you can select a package and the rhino that you would to adopt (or all three!) You will receive an adoption certificate, a photo of your rhino as well as a fact sheet about the individual as well as of the species on the whole, among other contents.
Lead Image - sheep81/Wikimedia Commons