With the recent death at San Diego Zoo Safari Park of a 44 year old male northern white rhino, the species is five rhinos away from extinction.
Angalifu, a male northern white rhino, died on Sunday and leaves an elderly female at the park, three in a Kenyan preserve and one at a Czech Republic zoo.
Poaching has brought the northern white rhino to the literal brink of extinction, said Randy Rieches, curator of mammals at the Safari Park in San Diego.
Back in 1960, there were more than 2,000 northern whites, according to the World Wildlife Fund, but poachers obliterated the population and by 1984, there were about 15 of the rhinos left of the original 2000. By 1993 through aggressive conservation efforts, their population doubled to 30. But heavily armed poaching gangs have now virtually annihilated the species, the WWF says.
Poachers (aka disgusting human beings) are well funded and utilise helicopters, guns with silencers and night-vision equipment to kill the rhinos’ for their horns, which are in huge demand in Asia and sell for as much as £20,000 a pound.
Bearing in mind the penalties are not nearly as severe as for selling drugs, the Rhinos never stood a chance.
“We don’t like to talk about price,” Rieches said, “because we feel by giving out a number it could possibly encourage one more person to think they can make money with rhino horn.”
Angalifu essentially died of old age. According to the Safari Park, he had not been very well and had stopped eating for days before his sad death.
“Angalifu’s death is a tremendous loss to all of us,” Rieches said.
The white rhino (which has southern and northern subspecies) is the largest of all the rhino species and ranks as the second-largest mammal on land, after the African elephant, according to the WWF. The white rhino can reach 6 feet in height at the shoulder, with females weighing about 3.5 tonnes and males almost 8 tonnes. The head of the rhino alone can weigh as much as 1 tonne by itself.
Luckily, conservation efforts with southern white rhinos have been a lot more successful that their northern counterparts. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park boasts the most successful captive breeding program for rhinos on the whole planet.
Efforts at breeding the northern white rhinos at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya also have failed.
The reproductive system of the northern white rhino is very complex, Rieches said, and gauging the estrus cycle of the female is difficult. “The rhino is one of the species that we’re still working on to perfect artifical insemination.”
New methods of insemination are being worked on, Rieches said as some of Angalifu’s semen is being kept at the “frozen zoo” at the San Diego Zoo Institute of Conservation Research.
The best we can currently hope for is possibly impregnating a female southern white rhino with sperm from a male northern white rhino. With only 5 left, the clock is ticking.