Northern White Rhino – Ceratotherium simum cottoni
Although considered extinct in the wild, new hope has been given to 4 of the remaining 8 Northern white rhinos.
The Northern white rhino subspecies is believed to be extinct in the wild, as reported by the International Rhino Foundation on July 17, 2008: The last four northern white rhinoceros remaining in the wild are feared to have been killed for their horns by poachers and are now believed to be extinct in the wild.
However, a celebrated plan has at last been implemented to bring this subspecies back from the very edge of extinction.
2009: New Hope for Northern White Rhinos – The “Fab Four”
Sudan, Suni, Najin, and Fatu
In December 2009, four of the world’s only known eight Northern white rhinos arrived in Kenya to begin new lives at Ol Pejeta Conservancy – the last hope to save this critically endangered rhino subspecies.
Affectionately dubbed the “Fab Four”, Sudan, Suni, Najin and Fatu landed safely in Kenya after being flown from ZOO Dvur Kralove to their new home. The return of the rhinos to Africa is considered the last chance at preserving the genetic material of the Northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), a rhino subspecies poached to extinction in the wild.
Rhino experts believe that the change to the rhinos’ natural environment at Ol Pejeta Conservancy will induce hormonal changes to make the females Najin and Fatu receptive to breeding. Producing hybrid calves with the the more numerous Southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum) is acknowledged as one of the best chances at saving NWR genes. Ongoing AI efforts are also in reportedly in progress.
An elaborate security system at Ol Pejeta Conservancy is in place to protect the four precious rhinos from poachers. The conservancy is the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa and is also home to a founder population of Southern white rhinos, which produced its first white rhino calf last year.
Most rhino experts understand that the window for achieving a “pure” population of the Northern white rhino (NWR) subspecies (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is now tragically closed. And while it is generally acknowledged that the best chances of preserving any genetic material is via hybrid offspring of NWR and the southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum), rhino experts remain divided on how to successfully preserve the NWR genes. Read about the Northern white rhino controversy: Only 8 Northern White Rhinos Still Survive As Controversy Brews Among Rhino Experts
10 years of Northern white rhino conservation thwarted by poaching
The International Rhino Foundation’s previous efforts to save the lives of a handful of wild Northern white rhino in 2005 ended in tragedy.
From 1995 to 2005, the International Rhino Foundation was intensely involved with NWR conservation in Garamba National Park – where the last wild Northern white rhinos were exterminated by insurmountable organized poaching.
Devastated by poaching, only about 30 animals remained in DRC’s Garamba National Park by 1995. Garamba suffered from repeated incursions from the janjaweed militia and now the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Manageable, containable subsistence poaching in the Park for bushmeat was replaced by full-scale poaching for rhino horn and elephant ivory. In 2005, a planned emergency translocation of five NWR from Garamba National Park to a sanctuary in Kenya became ensnared by political and local and national divisions and subsequently was cancelled.
After intensive engagement in Garamba National Park for more than a decade, the deteriorating operational and rhino status in the area, combined with exhausted financial resources, compelled the IRF to close its program there in 2005.
In stark contrast, IRF’s involvement in Southern white rhino conservation is considered a shining example of conservation success: The Southern white rhino population is approximately 17,500, despite fewer than 200 just a century ago.
Northern white rhinos today, black rhinos tomorrow?
As poachers continue to decimate wild rhino populations, the dire situation currently facing the Northern white rhino is a very real possibility for other critically endangered rhino species.
According to Ben Davies, author of Black Market: Inside the Endangered Species Trade in Asia, Steve Galster (WildAid) and his assistant Rebecca Chen made an alarming discovery in Guangzhou, China, while on an undercover investigation of rhino horn trafficking.
‘The smugglers believed that if the rhino became extinct, the price of rhino horn could easily have doubled’, says Galster, who posed as a wealthy South African buyer of rhino horn.
‘This was a calculated attempt to corner the market using horns from one of the most valuable and endangered species on earth.’
In 1970, there were 65,000 black rhinos. By 1993, there were only about 2,300 still surviving. Today – only because of conservation efforts – there are now 4,240 black rhinos.
But commercial poaching is rampant and the rhino death toll is skyrocketing, fueled by superstitions and demand in China and Vietnam, where new prosperity has made it possible for massive numbers of citizens to acquire illegal rhino horn.
Zimbabwe has now lost a quarter of its rhino population to organized poaching syndicates.
The outcome is obvious: If we do not heed these (huge!) warning signs, then the critically endangered black rhino, Javan rhino, and Sumatran rhino will one day suffer the fate of the Northern white rhino.