Northern white rhino faces extinction as only three remain after Nola dies in San Diego Zoo

By: PAULINE KAIRU

News of the death on Sunday of one of the only four surviving northern white rhinos has hit the conservation world hard.

This comes as efforts to save the near-extinct species remain uncertain.

Now, only three known northern white rhinos remain on the planet, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Nanyuki, following the death of Nola, a female northern white rhino in San Diego Zoo.

Nola died aged 41 on Sunday, when a lingering infection caught up with her, leaving behind only two other females Najin, 27, and her calf, Fatu, 13, and one male, Sudan, 43, under armed guard at the conservancy.

A statement from San Diego Zoo said Nola, who lived there since 1989, was under veterinary care for a bacterial infection, as well as age-related health issues.

She had begun her life in the savannahs of Sudan and was captured in 1975 and taken to the Dvu016Fr Kralove Zoo, in the Czech Republic where she has spent two decades.

“In the last 24 hours, Nola’s condition worsened and we made the difficult decision to euthanize her.

“We are absolutely devastated by this loss, but resolve to fight even harder to end extinction,” the statement said.

MAKE A RHINO CAMPAIGN

Ol Pejeta, is together with Dvu016Fr Kralove Zoo, trying to raise USD 1 million towards this with a GoFundMe campaign called ‘Make a Rhino’.

“We feel really bad it’s (extinction) happening on our watch,” said Andy Blue, associate curator of mammals for the San Diego Zoo, about Nola’s death.

The zoo’s world-famous conservation programme has rescued other species from the brink of extinction, and it had been trying to breed northern white rhinos since Nola first arrived in 1989.

But the reproductive habits of the northern white rhino proved tough to make it happen in captivity.

The three rhinos left in Kenya are, however, considered by scientists too old or ill to reproduce.

The future of this subspecies now lies in the development of in vitro fertilisation techniques and stem cell technology, costly and complicated procedures that have never before been attempted on rhinos.

The animals were moved to Kenya from Dvu016Fr Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic in 2009, along with one other male northern white rhino who subsequently died at Ol Pejeta.

EXPLORE ALTERNATIVES

“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,” said a statement dispatched by the Ol Pejeta Conservancy on November, 24 2015.

Unless a technique for rhino IVF or stem cell technology can be funded, developed, tested and implemented, the northern white rhino will become extinct.

A team of experts led by IZW Leibnitz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Berlin has been working with Dvu016Fr Kralove and Ol Pejeta on this.

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 towards the IVF initiative.

“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 Ol Pejeta CEO, 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 club together to save the northern white rhino for future generations,” he added.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION