And Then There Were Five

And Then There Were Five

A startling ecological alarm was sounded when the world learned Angalifu, a northern white rhino at the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park passed away at the age of 44. With his passing, following a short illness and a refusal to eat, a census of the worldwide northern white rhino population can now be conducted on one hand.

Just over 50 years ago, more than 2,000 of these majestic beasts were still on the planet. The value certain cultures have placed on rhino horns has served to decimate the global population. The caretaker of Angalifu, who was responsible for bringing him to his new Southern California home, lamented the individual loss and expressed grief that despite his best efforts at conservation, the continued extinction of the northern white rhino was happening before his eyes.

“It was still a shock, even though we knew he had been having some medical issues. It is very, very difficult when you’ve dedicated your life to saving species, to have something like this happen on your watch. It is definitely the end of this species with normal reproduction possibilities, because all the animals now that are living are post-reproductive.” – Randy Rieches, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The southern cousin to the northern white rhino is faring better than the northern population. However, a startling statistic is that one rhino is killed every eight hours. The poachers, employing the use of helicopters, night-vision equipment, and high-powered rifles with silencers, are all but ensuring the eventual destruction and collapse of the global rhino population. Anti-poaching laws are ineffective, amounting to little more than a slap on the wrist for those who are caught. In fact, the murder of endangered animals carries a far more lax punishment than someone who is caught trafficking drugs.

Rieches and other conservationists have resorted to other means in a last ditch effort to save the species. The almost-two-year gestation period for the rhino means that births only happen once every three years. Traditional reproduction is simply no longer a viable option. Frozen genetic samples are currently housed in frozen zoos, like one Rieches oversees in San Diego. While the technology doesn’t exist currently, the hope is the species can be reintroduced at some point in the future.

“It gives us an opportunity to actually come back and try and reproduce this species, but there’s a lot of things to do before we do that.” – Randy Rieches, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The passing of Angalifu leaves the world with only five of these amazing animals. The San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park has an elderly female of the species, while another is at a zoo facility in the Czech Republic, and the final three are at a Kenyan wildlife preserve.

PHOTO CREDIT: Deviantart.net – 26Livingston

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Alan hails from the great state of Texas by way of Florida and New York. He began his news/OpEd writing career serving as the Community Editor of the Times-Record News in Wichita Falls, Texas while completing his Political Science/Spanish degrees. He later took his talents to a handful of online outlets where his writing focus was on Science, Health, and Technology. Addressing Politics, Foreign Policy, and Social Justice returns Alan to where his passions lie. Proud to be part of the inaugural team for Reverb Press, Alan looks forward to any and all feedback that results from his articles and features.