Nola, a female northern white rhino died in San Diego Zoo, aged 41 on November 22. This leaves just three remaining on the planet; all of them live in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in northern Kenya.
The future of this subspecies now lies in the development of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques and stem cell technology, costly and complicated procedures that have never before been attempted in rhinos.
Last week, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy on its website said that in collaboration with Dvr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, the conservancy was seeking to raise $1 million towards an IVF project through the GoFundMe campaign called “Make a Rhino.”
The conservancy quoted a statement from the San Diego Zoo: “Nola, who lived here since 1989, was under veterinary care for a bacterial infection, as well as age-related health issues. In the past 24 hours, Nola’s condition worsened and we made the difficult decision to euthanise her. We’re absolutely devastated by this loss, but resolved to fight even harder to end extinction.”
Her death leaves two females and one male in Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The animals were moved to Kenya from Dvr Králové Zoo in 2009, along with one other male northern white rhino who subsequently died at Ol Pejeta. It was hoped that more natural conditions would encourage mating, but as several fruitless years passed, staff at Ol Pejeta were forced to explore alternatives.
In 2014, a male southern white rhino was introduced to the two female northern whites. It was hoped that if breeding were successful, the hybrid offspring would at least conserve some of the northern white genes. Again, this proved unsuccessful. Tests later revealed that neither of the females was capable of natural reproduction.
Unless a technique for rhino IVF or stem cell technology can be funded, developed, tested and implemented, the northern white rhino will soon become extinct. A team of experts led by Leibniz-Institut für Zoo- und Wildtierforschung (IZW Berlin) has been co-operating with Dvr Králové and Ol Pejeta on this already.
The “Make a Rhino” campaign on GoFundMe aims to raise funds to assist in the research necessary to save the species. Ol Pejeta Conservancy is appealing to people all over the world to help. “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 chief executive 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 come together to save the northern white rhino for future generations.”
The IVF programme to save the northern white rhino comes at a time when Namibia’s Environment and Tourism Ministry has issued a statement (on November 21) that 79 rhinos have been killed this year by poachers in the country.
This compares with 25 rhinos poached in the country last year. The numbers reflect a rising trend in rhino poaching. According to the country’s authorities, the killings took place at Etosha National Park.
The park is the biggest wildlife sanctuary in Namibia, offering a variety of accommodation options and spectacular wildlife viewing. It was designated as a game reserve in 1907 and remains one of Africa’s major wildlife sanctuaries.
The rhinos poached this year include two found killed last week. “Nobody has been arrested in connection with the killing of the two protected animals, but the police are continuing to investigate the incidents,” local media quoted police spokesperson Chief Inspector Kauna Shikwambi saying on Monday.
The government was offering a $4,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the rhino poachers. The black rhino, brought to the brink of extinction by poaching, has been listed as critically endangered since 2001.
Rhinos are usually killed for their horn, which is believed to have medicinal qualities and is used in Chinese herbal medicine, fetching a price per gramme equivalent to gold. A single horn can fetch $100,000 on the black market.
Additional information by Africa Review