Northern white rhinos – where are we at?
There has been a resurgence of interest in the Northern-white rhinos this month; here we recap some of the key facts about this near-extinct sub-species.
- There are currently five Northern white rhinos remaining in the world. A female (Nola, 40) in San Diego Safari Park, a female (Nabire, 31) in Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic and three animals in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya: a male (Sudan, 43), and two females (Najin, 25 and Fatu, 14)
- The rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy were transported to Kenya in December 2009 from Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, where it was hoped that the more natural habitat, climate and dietary conditions would stimulate the rhinos to mate, breed and offer a chance of recovery for the subspecies. One of the original four rhinos translocated, Suni, died unexpectedly of natural causes in October 2014
- Sudan is the sole surviving male Northern white rhino (NWR). Sudan is the father of Najin, and Najin is the mother of Fatu. The three rhinos in Kenya are closely related
- The rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy are now looked after round-the-clock by a team of armed guards to prevent poaching. They have also been dehorned as a poaching deterrent
- The Northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) and the Southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum) are genetically distinct sub-species. The Southern white rhino now numbers around 20,405 individuals, having been rescued from the brink of extinction due to intensive conservation efforts in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, after numbers fell to just 50-100 individuals in the late 19th century
- The Northern white rhino and Southern white rhino look very similar; however small visible differences include Northern white rhinos having stockier legs and hairier ears than Southern white rhinos
- Northern white rhinos were once found in abundance, throughout Southern Chad, the Central African Republic, South-western Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and North-western Uganda
- In 1960, there were still around 2,360 Northern white rhinos remaining. However widespread poaching and civil wars in both the Democratic of Congo and neighbouring Sudan decimated the population, and in 1984 only about 15 individuals survived, all in Garamba National Park, DRC. After a brief population recovery to approximately 30 individuals, poaching increased again and no live rhino have been seen since 2006. The subspecies is now considered extinct in the DRC
- During the 1990s and early 2000s there were many international efforts to conserve the last remaining wild rhinos in DRC. However, government opposition, increasing insecurity and serious management problems in the face of armed militia’s camped in the Park led to a suspension of all conservation support for Garamba National Park
- The chance of natural Northern white breeding is unlikely due to Sudan’s old age. Genetic material has been collected from the last remaining Northern white rhinos, which could be used for future breeding interventions, including artificial insemination techniques and in-vitro fertilisation
- While the fate of the Northern white rhino is uncertain, the world still has the opportunity to ensure that the remaining rhino species do not go the same way. With rhino poaching reaching record levels, all five rhino species need our support now more than ever