With World Rhino Day (22 September 2015, #WorldRhinoDay) approaching, I for one do not want to be ‘the generation’ that presided over the extinction of a rhino sub-species (and potentially, a whole species).
The Northern white rhino is a subspecies of white rhino (Ceratotherium simum). White rhino species numbers are now endangered(1), with the Southern white (Ceratotherium simum simum) population at just 20,405.
As of September 2015, the Northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) has a world population of just four – Najin, Fatu and Nola are females, Sudan is a male.
Nola is a 41 year old female in San Diego Zoo Safari Park, but she is currently suffering with a hip condition and underwent veterinary attention earlier in the week. The other three remaining Northern white rhino reside at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy(2) in Kenya.
So, Sudan (aged 40 years old) is the last remaining male Northern white rhino in the world.
Northern White Rhino Breeding Programmes
On December 20th, 2009, of the last seven remaining northern white rhinos at the time, four of them arrived at Ol Pejeta – This includes females Najin and Fatu, plus males Sudan and Suni. These 4 rhinos had been living in Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, but all previous Northern white rhino breeding programmes at the Dvur Kralove Zoo had proved unsuccessful.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy offers a natural, 700 acre rhino habitat of native rich grasslands, where it was hoped the favourable conditions would provide breeding success, but again with a 16 month gestation period, observing the female Northern white rhinos’ condition proved agonising and ultimately fruitless. In early 2015 the reasons for lack of breeding programme success became more apparent, when checks by vets from the Czech Republic determined that neither of the females, Najin and Fatu were capable of natural reproduction.
In October 2014, the male, Suni died aged 34 years old, of natural causes in his enclosure at Ol Pejeta. That left the older male, Sudan as the sole hope for any Northern white rhino breeding programme at Ol Pejeta (or indeed the world).
What Next to Save the Northern White Rhino Subspecies?
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy consulted with experts and in collaboration with the Dvur Kralove Zoo, announced in February 2015 that an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) programmes for the Northern white rhino species was a possibility. The IVF procedure is complicated and has never been done before for rhinos. There are no guarantees for success, but if it works, it could save the subspecies.
As of 20 September 2015 the dedicated IVF fundraising, Make a Rhino had reached £7.7k – Ol Pejata estimates that the Northern white rhino IVF programme will need to raise £500k ($800k USD) to succeed. But with Sudan’s age a concern, time is running out.
With so few Northern white rhinos still with us and considering the obstacles ahead, we can all support, hope and praise the efforts being made to save the Northern white rhino for future generations.
- To keep the northern white rhinos safe in their 700 acre enclosure and in good health, Ol Pejeta has dedicated 24hr armed security on patrol plus provides a nutritious diet supplemented with fresh vegetables.
- Northern white rhino used to range over parts of Uganda, Chad, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Years of widespread poaching and civil war in their home range have devastated Northern white rhino populations. The Northern white rhino is now considered to be extinct in the wild.
- Call to place the white rhino on the CITES Appendix I list – Call to UK DEFRA