Sunday 22nd 2015 was a sad day for the world – at least for conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts who have been working hard to save what little is left of the rare and critically endangered Northern White Rhino. On that Sunday Nola, a female northern white rhino in the San Diego Zoo, died aged 41.
This now means all hope of the survival of this subspecies on the planet rests squarely with Kenya where the last remaining 3 northern white rhinos live at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia.
It is these 3 that scientists are relying on to save the subspecies from a possible extinction that grows eminent with every waking day.
By using a combination of in vitro fertilisation and stem cell technologies, they are hoping Kenya might just go down the annals of history as the cradle of the next generation of a northern white rhino subspecies brought to this world artificially. No one has ever attempted the two techniques on rhinos anywhere on earth.
Just in case you are not following, ergo, you are not feeling the deepness of the situation, let me put the history of the northern white rhino into perspective. The northern white rhino (northern square-lipped rhino) is one of the 2 subspecies of the white rhino, although recent research suggests this to be an entirely different species rather than a subspecies of the white rhino.
Initially found in several countries in East and Central Africa south of the Sahara, this animal has suffered population declines of unprecedented proportions to the extent that only eight remained in the whole world by the year 2000. Today the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists it as Critically Endangered.
The eye-opening story begins after the year 2000 in the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. Six northern white rhinos lived here until 2009 when Ol Pejeta Conservancy took in four of the only remaining reproductive animals in the group. At Ol Pejeta, scientists hoped they would successfully breed and save this subspecies from extinction – then one of the 4 died in October 2014.
Earlier, in May 2011, one of the 2 rhinos that remained in the Dvůr Králové Zoo also died and thereafter, in July 2015, the other, known as Nabiré, died. At the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park in California, Angalifu, one of the 2 rhinos living there later died in December 2014 – leaving Nola who has also now died. Do you now understand how desperate the situation is?
According to the San Diego Zoo, Nola was undergoing treatment for a bacterial infection to which she could have succumbed although age-related health issues may also have been a factor in her death. Her condition became so bad that the staff at the zoo opted for euthanasia to end her misery.
Her death leaves 2 females and a male in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This now increases the urgency to secure the USD 1 million needed to fund the development, testing and implementation of the artificial fertilisation procedure needed to save the northern white from extinction.
“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,” says Richard Vigne, CEO of Ol Pejeta Conservancy. “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,” he adds.
I cannot stop thinking about what it may have felt for staff at the San Diego Zoo to have to make such a tough call – probably the toughest they have ever made in their lives. You can rewrite history by stopping the extinction of a subspecies if you make a donation today at Ol Pejeta’s GoFundMe page.