The death of Nola, an elderly male, white rhino, has caused the world’s total population of Northern white rhinos to decline significantly by 25 percent.
The 41-year-old rhino lost its life’s battle to a bacterial infection at San Diego Zoo on the 22nd of November. The world is now left with only three massive, two-horned northern white rhinos in total.
In their statement on Facebook, the park authorities declared that the white rhino was euthanized after being severely infected by bacteria, which only worsened by age. The authorities expressed their grief on this loss and vowed to strive harder to combat extinction.
Northern white rhinos, bearing the scientific name of Ceratotherium simum cottoni, once ruled the major areas of Sudan, Uganda, Congo, Central Africa, Cameroon and Chad. Only second to elephants in size, they are the one of the largest land animals on Earth. Their tough skin, horns, and sheer size plus their ability to run at speeds of 30 miles per hour means they have no natural predators.
They do have other predators though: humans. But that’s an entirely different story. From 1960 to 2015, the already rare breed was targeted even more, the population decreasing from 2,000 to just 5, owing to the habitat loss, civil war, and being hunted for their valuable horns.
This total population of 5 rhinos further declined with the death Of Nabire, a 31-year-old Czech rhino, which died of a ruptured cyst in July.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya is now a home to the remaining three aging rhinos. These rhinos are too old and weak to breed naturally, and without scientific intervention, the subspecies too will die with the death of these three rhinos.
On Nabire’s death, a spokesperson for the African Wildlife Foundation, Kathleen Garrigan, agreed in her statement to National Geographic, that the whole generation of rhinos had disappeared right in front of their eyes and they didn’t realize it on time.
Although the population of the southern white rhinos was once as small as their close relatives, the northern white rhinos, they still fared far better than them. According to the organization, Save the Rhino, more than 20 thousand rhinos still survive in the wild after being hunted to extinction a century ago.
In 1900, only one South African preserve was able to shelter the remaining less than 20 rhinos, but fortunately, owing to the efforts of local governments– breeding efforts, legal protection, and trophy hunting regulation– the shrinking number of subspecies was brought back from the brink. However, the World Wildlife Fund reported that in 2015 in South Africa, a cruel number of 1215 white rhinos were killed for poaching. The officials hope to put an end to these illegal activities by taking extreme measures: micro chipping the valuable horns and crack down on illegal ivory trade.
It would take a miracle to produce even another northern white rhino, let alone revive the subspecies. But scientists are hoping they can manufacture one.
Now only two things can offer the possibility of making a baby northern white rhino: a miracle, or a scientific breakthrough.
Barbara Durrant, a vet of San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, informed Live Science that researchers are working to develop a rhino IVF procedure to implant an embryo produced from preserved sperm and egg. Unfortunately, the preserved items reproductive cells are insufficient– produced from only 12 northern white donors–and also the procedure is far from ready to use. She further confessed that the procedure was tested two times, but both times the embryo failed to develop beyond a cluster of just two cells.
As reported by Scientific American, the San Diego Zoo will invest $2 million for an experiment that would use female southern white rhinos as surrogates to carry northern white rhino embryos.
If this experiment fails, the southern female rhinos will be artificially inseminated with preserved northern rhinos’ sperm as a last resort. Though this procedure is not an ideal solution, would at least favor the rhino population’s genetic diversity.
The staff at Ol Pejeta has been busy in harvesting eggs from the last remaining female northern rhinos.
At the time when global population of subspecies has stood at five, Richard Vigne, the preservation’s chief executive, informed Live Science that it’s a race against time and a matter of utmost urgency to obtain eggs from the remaining female rhinos, as their days are numbered.