Prior to this weekend, only four white rhinoceroses were alive in the world. With the death of San Diego Zoo’s 41-year-old Nola, that number is now down to three, leaving a big question mark over the future of the species.
Nola, the last female northern white rhino in the Western hemisphere, had undergone surgery on November 13 to drain a hip abscess. However, her health deteriorated significantly over the last few weeks. On Monday, the San Diego Zoo announced on its Facebook page (see below) that it had to put Nola down, asking followers to share the hashtag #Nola4Ever in her honor.
The three remaining northern white rhinos are currently at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya. According to the conservancy’s official website, one of the rhinos named Sudan is the only white male in the world capable of breeding, but has a “disappointingly low” sperm count. Also, neither of the two females is capable of reproduction, possibly marking the end of the specie.
In 2008, the white rhinos were declared extinct after their population was devastated by poachers seeking their prized horns. Some feel it’s a miracle that even four white rhinos survived the last eight years.
There are still 20,000 southern white rhinos in the world. A recent study is trying to determine whether the subspecies are genetically similar enough for surrogacy to work. If the surrogacy is a success, the world can hope for a white rhino calf born in 10 to 15 years.
Credit to San Diego zoo for trying; they recently brought in six southern white rhinos as potential surrogate mothers for northern white rhino embryos. However, this may not work.
Richard Vigne, head of the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya, isn’t very optimistic about saving the white rhinos. “This species (white rhinos) has been on the brink of extinction for an awfully long period of time. Sad though it is, the demise of Lola actually makes no material difference to the likely future of the species,” Vigne told BBC.