Northern white rhinos in danger

By: QUINN EASTMAN - Staff Writer | Monday, June 11, 2007 4:01 PM PDT

A female Northern White Rhino relaxes in a shallow steam at the Wild Animal Park on Thursday.
Don Boomer
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SAN PASQUAL VALLEY ---- The recent death of Nadi, a northern white rhinoceros at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park, highlights the bleak outlook for a species conservationists call the most endangered large mammal on earth.
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Only a handful of northern white rhinos remain, including the Wild Animal Park's elderly female, Nola, and a male named Angalifu.

"Things look incredibly dismal at this point," said Randy Rieches, curator of mammals at the Wild Animal Park. "The only hope may be to preserve as much genetic material as possible and wait until reproductive technology advances enough to bring the species back."

In the wild, fewer than six northern white rhinos have been seen at the Garamba National Park at the northern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a war-torn region where the animals are threatened by mounted poachers from Sudan.

Six others are at the Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic, where attempts to impregnate two females have been unsuccessful.

When she died May 30, Nadi was thought to be more than 40 years old, close to the longevity record of 44 years. She was caught in Africa and came to San Diego County in 1989 from the Czech Republic.

The northern white, which can reach a weight of 6,000 pounds, used to roam from Chad to Uganda.

Rhino horns are in demand on the Arabian Peninsula, where craftsmen turn them into handles for ornate daggers, and in some Asian countries, where they are ground up and sold as an aphrodisiac.

Rangers from the African Parks Foundation, the nonprofit group that manages Garamba National Park, recently flew over an area where the rhinos lived and found carcasses with their horns hacked off, Rieches said.

"There's a big difference between a species that goes extinct naturally and one that goes extinct because of human greed," he said.

But in collaboration with scientists based in Berlin, Rieches said, young northern white rhinos may be able one day to come to the Wild Animal Park. Rieches noted that a white rhino baby was born in Budapest in February, thanks to artificial insemination performed by a group from Berlin's Leibnitz Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research. The baby was a southern white, a relative of the northern white, which lives in South Africa and neighboring countries.

The shape of the rhino cervical tract makes artificial insemination difficult, Rieches said.

The northern and southern subspecies are difficult to tell apart. But the similarity means that southern white females could possibly be used as surrogate mothers for northern white babies, he said.

Southern white rhinos have fared far better than their northern cousins. More than 11,000 survive today, more than all other varieties, and several dozen southern whites have been born at the Wild Animal Park during its history.

There are five kinds of rhinos, including the black rhino, found in East Africa, and the Indian, Javan and Sumatran rhino.

White rhinos get their name not from their color, but from their wide mouths, according to the World Conservation Union. "Wyd," the word for "wide" in Afrikaans, the language spoken by Dutch settlers in South Africa, sounds like the English word "white."

In Africa, the outlook for the northern white's habitat has improved somewhat since sporadic peace talks began between the Ugandan government and a guerrilla group that uses the area as a refuge, according to the African Parks Foundation.

The Lord's Resistance Army has been fighting the Ugandan government since the 1960s.

The foundation, a private, Netherlands-based nonprofit, began managing Garamba at the end of 2005 with the cooperation of the Congolese government.

Earlier that year, the Congolese government had canceled an internationally sponsored relocation of Garamba's northern white population to Kenya.

A 2006 news statement from the foundation says:

"Although the African Parks Foundation is reluctant to give away information on the remaining few (rhinos), they have always been living safely away from the clutches of the LRA. Rather, their main threat has been raiding parties of well-armed Sudanese poachers."

Contact staff writer Quinn Eastman at (760) 740-5412 or qeastman@nctimes.com. Comment at nctimes.com.

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6 comment(s)[-]Go to Top

john wrote on Jun 11, 2007 7:25 AM:Poor girl, She will be missed, Thats one old rino.Better get those male rinos busy.

Zephon wrote on Jun 11, 2007 1:55 PM:Another example of how mankind has destroyed this planet. The largest die off of existing plants and animals in the 5 billion year history of the planet Earth - caused by mankind's greed and ignorance of the last few hundred years. If the God believers really took heart to the idea of their religion, they should be fighting mad, instead they support this lame President Bush and his keeper Cheney - that has encouraged the destruction of this planet for wealth and privlege for a special few.

Gods no answer wrote on Jun 11, 2007 4:57 PM:Some christians believe that all animals are here for humanities use and that there is no point in saving any of them because the apocalypse is just around the corner. So I wouldn't look to religon for an answer to this issue anymore than I would blame Bush for a problem that humanity has been working up to for more than a hundred years.

Dr. J. wrote on Jun 22, 2007 8:03 AM:I have been extremely surprised to read that �Rangers from the African Parks Foundation, the nonprofit group that manages Garamba National Park, recently flew over an area where the rhinos lived and found carcasses with their horns hacked off, Rieches said.� I have absolutely no idea of where you got this information from, but it is absolutely false! As far as I know, Mr Rieches has never had any contact with our staff on the ground and besides, no rhino carcass has been found since September 2005, which is the date when African Parks took over the management of Garamba NP.

JC wrote on Jul 5, 2007 12:10 PM:It is a disgrace that in the 21st century we can allow such a magnificent animal to become extinct. poor few northern white rhinos left, they must be very lonely :(

ATP wrote on Apr 29, 2008 7:21 AM:Just one more piece of evidence that sadly too many humans are in the 'ME & instant gratification' mode with no concern for any other of God's creatures --we all have free will & can choose good or evil. Killing these creatures for greed is evil.

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