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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