Northern white rhinoceros
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|Northern white rhinoceros|
|A male northern white rhinoceros at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park|
|Subspecies:||C. s. cottoni|
|Ceratotherium simum cottoni
|Range map in orange|
The northern white rhinoceros, or northern square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), is one of the two subspecies of the white rhinoceros. Formerly found in several countries in East and Central Africa south of the Sahara, it is considered Critically Endangered or Extinct in the Wild. This subspecies is a grazer in grasslands and savanna woodlands. In the world, there are currently only three rhinos of this subspecies left in captivity.
Initially, six northern white rhinoceros lived in the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. Four of the six rhinos (which are also the only reproductive animals of this subspecies) were transported to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, Africa, where scientists hope they will successfully breed and save this subspecies from extinction. One of two remaining in the Czech Republic died in late May 2011. The two other rhinos presently live at the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park in California.
Following the phylogenetic species concept, recent research has suggested the northern white rhinoceros may be an altogether different species, rather than a subspecies of white rhinoceros, in which case the correct scientific name for the former is Ceratotherium cottoni. Distinct morphological and genetic differences suggest the two proposed species have been separated for at least a million years.
The northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) formerly ranged over parts of northwestern Uganda, southern Chad, southern South Sudan, the eastern part of Central African Republic, and northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
As of 2006, there were only four northern white rhinos left in the wild according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. However, in June 2008 it was reported that the subspecies could be extinct in the wild since none of these four known remaining individuals has been seen since 2006.
Poachers reduced their population from 500 to 15 in the 1970s and 1980s. From the early 1990s through mid-2003, the population recovered to more than 32 animals. Surveys in 2000 indicated the population had started recovering, with 30 animals confirmed in 2000, and possibly six others. Since mid-2003, poaching had intensified and reduced the wild population to only 5 to 10 animals (7 as of 2007). Four rhinos living in Garamba National Park were the last known wild northern white rhinos; they have not been seen in recent years and it is feared they have been killed. If confirmed, this would make the northern white rhino extinct in the wild apart from the last-chance efforts by the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to reintroduce it in a wild state. Indeed, as of 2011, the total number of northern white rhinos on the planet is reported to be five males and two females (3 in captivity and 4 in conservancy).
On 28 November 2009, two Russian helicopter pilots had seen Northern White Rhinos in southern Sudan. It is probable that the three rhinoceroses that were spotted belong to this subspecies, as other rhinoceroses have not been living in the area for a long time.
Garamba National Park
The last surviving population of wild northern white rhinos was in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In January 2005, the government of the DRC approved a two-part plan for five northern white rhinos to be moved from Garamba National Park to a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya. The second part commits the government and its international partners to increase conservation efforts in Garamba, so the northern white rhinos can be returned when it is safe again. The translocation did not occur, due to the death of the remaining animals.
In August 2005, ground and aerial surveys conducted under the direction of African Parks Foundation and the African Rhino Specialist Group (ARSG) had only found four animals, a solitary adult male and a group of one adult male and two adult females. In June 2008, it was reported that the species may have gone extinct in the wild, since none of these four known remaining individuals had been seen since 2006.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy
The zoo population is declining, and Northern whites have rarely reproduced in captivity. Four of the six rhinos from Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic (which are also the only reproductive animals of this subspecies) were transported to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, Africa. They arrived at the conservancy after an air and road trip on 20 December 2009.
The four rhinos (2 male and 2 female), under constant watch by specialists and staff, lived in specially constructed bomas with access to a 400 x 400 metre paddock area, allowing them to acclimatize to their new surroundings. These four are:
- Sudan, a 35-year-old male (as of 2009), who was caught from the wild in Sudan at 3 years old.
- Suni, a male, was born in captivity in 1980. He had mated while in zoos. Some of his sperm has been collected and frozen.
- Najin, a female, was born in captivity in 1989. She is Suni's half-sister and mother of Fatu.
- Fatu, a female, was born in captivity in 2000. She is the daughter of Najin.
To prevent any unnecessary injuries they might inflict on each other while interacting in their fenced area, and give their horns an opportunity to regrow to a natural shape (as their front horns had grown bent by much rubbing against enclosure bars in captivity), all four rhinos were sedated and their horns were sawn off. This also makes them less vulnerable to the poaching that drove their species to near extinction, as the horn is what the poachers are after. In place of their horns, radio transmitters have been installed to allow closer monitoring of their whereabouts.
Since May 2010, one of the northern white rhino males was moved from the initial holding pens to a much larger 700-acre (2.8 km2) semiwild enclosure. There he roams among many African animals, including several southern white rhino females and many plains animals. On 26 October 2011, the females were coaxed into the larger enclosure. Because Najin was overly protective of her daughter Fatu's chance at mating, one of the two moved back into the smaller enclosure two weeks later.
Until 2011, the progress of this attempt at saving the northern white rhinoceros was documented on the initiative's website; and their life in Ol Pejeta Conservancy is commented on on the Conservancy's website. Several documentaries are in the works, including an episode of Ol Pejeta Diaries entitled "Return of the African Titans" for Oasis HD Canada fall 2010, and a follow-up half-hour episode to follow. This translocation is also the subject of a BBC Last Chance to See special entitled "Return of the Rhino", presented by Stephen Fry and the zoologist Mark Carwardine; the TV program reported at the end that the two pairs of rhinos were "flirting".
On 25 April 2012 and on 27 May 2012 Suni and Najin mated. Pregnancy of the female rhinos was monitored weekly. Rhinoceros gestation period takes 16 to 18 months, so in January 2014 the Conservancy considered Najin not pregnant, and a male southern white rhino from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was put to Najin and Fatu enclosure in Ol Pejeta to at least intercross the subspecies. To achieve this, both female northern white rhinos were separated from their male counterparts, which prevents them, for the time being, from producing a pure northern white rhino offspring.
South Sudan’s nationwide rhino search
In May 2013 South Sudan’s National Ministry of Wildlife Conservation, Environment and Tourism has launched a nationwide search for Black Rhinos and White Rhinos in the country. The search for the species is to increase protection of the species from total extinction, as the ministry promises to report to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora. Speaking to journalists, Eastern Equatoria State’s (EES) Wildlife Conservation, Environment and Tourism Minister Hon. George Echome Ekeno said the national government through their state ministries has begun a nationwide hunt for the existence of rhinos in the country. They have mounted aerial and ground search for rhinos in the national Game Parks and Game reserves. The government of South Sudan wants to establish the existence of rhinos that once lived in the national parks before the two decades of war but are no longer seen in the country. The statistics of the animals before its apparent extinction could not be established. The species existed in Nimule, Bandingilo, Boma Plateau, the then Southern National Game Park, and Kidepo Valley Game reserve. The search for the rhinos was sparked by reports from local population claiming to have spotted rhinos in Bandingilo and Boma National Game Park. Though the search team has never confirmed existence of the popular animal, the minister disclosed that native communities of the country have reported seeing the species in the wilderness. The minister said if the rumours of rhinos' existence in the country are proven true, South Sudan will immediately report to CITES to avoid its total extinction. Whether male or female, South Sudan Wildlife would apply through the international body for protection of endangered animal species to provide a partner from another country to breed the animals in the country for restocking. South Sudan lost a great deal of wildlife species during the two decades of civil war where over 1.5 million people died and over 4 million others fled the region. The extinction of wildlife during the war times was under multiple causes including killing by the fighting forces and poachers for meat or sale.
Dvůr Králové Zoo
The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) has some internationally coordinated breeding programmes of wild animals such as the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), including a white rhino EEP.
In Dvůr Králové Zoo, Dvůr Králové nad Labem, Czech Republic there is one female named Nabire, born at Dvůr Králové Zoo on 15 November 1983. Her mother was a northern white rhino (C. s. cottoni) named Nasima, and her father was a northern white rhino (C. s. cottoni) named Sudan.
In recent years, the other rhinoceroses there have died:
- Nesari, a female wild born at Shambe, Sudan, on 19 September 1972, died in 2011.
- Nasi, a female born at Dvůr Králové Zoo on 11 November 1977, died in 2008.
- Saut, a male wild born at Shambe in Sudan on 19 September 1972, died in August 2006, age 33.
Dvůr Králové Zoo was also home to four other northern white rhinoceros, two males and two females, but these are the four which were transferred to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on 19 December 2009 in a joint effort by the zoo, Fauna and Flora International, Back to Africa, Lewa, and Kenya Wildlife Service. The Czech Dvůr Králové Zoo was the only zoo in which northern white rhinos produced offspring. As the last offspring came to the world in 2000, the zoo management decided to stimulate the rhinos' sexual appetite by putting them back into their natural habitat. The agreement with the Kenyan government expects the rhinos never to be returned to the Czech Republic.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park in San Diego, California, has two northern white rhinos, both of which were wild-caught. They are a female named Nola (b. 1974, on loan since 1989 from Zoo Dvůr Králové) and a male named Angalifu (b. 1974, on loan from 1990 from Khartoum Zoo in Khartoum). One other female, named Nadi, who was on loan from the Dvůr Králové Zoo, died on 30 May 2007. Nola is not fertile so this captive population is not breeding.
A collaboration was underway between the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Dvůr Králové Zoo in Dvůr Králové nad Labem, Czech Republic to provide Angalifu's semen to female rhinos in captivity in the Czech Republic in an effort to save this subspecies. However, the insemination attempts in northern white rhinos have failed and thus the only reproductive animals of this subspecies were transported to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
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