November 2015

Only 3 Northern white rhinos survive after death of Nola

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One of only four Northern white rhinos in the world has died at San Diego Zoo Safari Park on 22 November 2015. Nola who was 41 years-old had lived at the Safari Park since 1989.

Nola’s health had deteriorated in old age, and she recently underwent surgery on 13 November to drain an abscess in her pelvic region. Keepers watched Nola around-the-clock however they noticed her health deteriorating and signs or a reduced appetitive and activity level. In the 24 hours before her death Nola’s condition worsened significantly and the team had to make the difficult decision to euthanize her.

Nola’s death is significant as this now leaves only three Northern white rhinos existing in the whole world; two females and one male now living under armed guard at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. 

The Northern white rhino is a genetically distinct subspecies from the Southern white rhino which now numbers around 20,405 individuals, having been rescued from the brink of extinction due to intensive conservation efforts.

Northern white rhinos were once found in abundance, throughout Southern Chad, the Central African Republic, South-western Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo 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.

Efforts to breed the remaining individuals have been unsuccessful, and the population of Northern white rhinos has fallen from seven to three individuals in just 19 months. The Northern white rhino is now on the brink of extinction.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is working with Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic and researchers from IZW Berlin to investigate the potential for saving the species through the development of in vitro fertilisation techniques and stem cell technology, which are costly and complicated procedures that have never before been attempted in rhinos. 

The decline of the Northern white rhinos is a sad, sorry history of political conflict in their former range states, and it is important to ensure that the remaining rhino species do not go the same way. With all five remaining rhino species under threat, the world must work together to prevent any further rhino species extinctions.

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Photo credit Mark Carwardine

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