Only three northern white rhinos left. Can we save the rhinos?

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

And now there are only threeNola was euthanized at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on Sunday after an illness from a bacterial infection and age-related health issues worsened, the park said in a statement on its Facebook page. The northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is a subspecies of white rhinoceros that once ranged across parts of Uganda, Sudan, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and into Chad and Cameroon.

Frequent civil wars and widespread poaching of rhinos in Africa, driven largely by demand in Asia for ground-up horns as an ingredient in medicine, has caused their numbers to plummet. Only about 29,000 rhinos remain in the wild today, down from about 500,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, according to the charity Save the Rhino. The 42-year-old male called Sudan, who despite his name, resides in a national park in Kenya, is kept under constant guard, given that he is the last remaining hope to keep his species alive. This year, that number fell to three: In addition to Nola, a 31-year-old Czech rhino named Nabiré died after complications from a ruptured cyst in July.

Scientists have taken sperm samples from the male rhinoceros, which are currently being stored inside tanks of liquid nitrogen at a zoo in the Czech Republic, the Sunday Times reports. The last three known northern white rhinoceroses live at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, where they roam in a 70-acre enclosure, protected by armed guards 24 hours a day. All are older and neither of the females is capable of breeding naturally, the conservancy said, while Sudan’s sperm count is “disappointingly low” due to his age.

Buyers value them as dagger handles and for their supposed medicinal properties – a superstition disproved by scientists, but persistent in many Asian cultures. But good fortune and local governments favored the southern white rhino: A combination of legal protections, breeding efforts and regulated trophy hunting initiatives helped bring the subspecies back from the brink.

But the number of preserved reproductive cells is tiny — they come from just 12 northern whites — and the procedure is still a long way from being ready to use them. If all else fails, southern white rhino females may also be artificially inseminated with preserved northern males’ sperm, preserving some of the genetic traits that make the northern subspecies unique. This step, though less than ideal, would at least add to the rhino population’s genetic diversity. “It’s kind of a race against time,” the preservation’s chief executive Richard Vigne told Live Science in June of this year when the global population of the subspecies stood at five animals. “Those remaining females could all die tomorrow.

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