Last Chance to Survive: Northern White Rhino

Four of the world’s remaining eight Northern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) are settling in to their new home in the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya. They were shipped to the reserve from Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic, where they’ve been for the past 30 years.  They were sent in crates that were labeled ‘Last Chance to Survive’. The two remaining Czech Northern white rhinos and two Northern white rhinos at the Wild Animal Park, in San Diego, aren’t reproductively viable, so the four now in Kenya are the last hope of continuing the genetic line. From the 1970s to the 1980s, their population was reduced to 15 due to poaching. Earlier in this decade, that population had doubled and seemed to be on the slow road to recovery. Since 2003, though, the last remaining Northern whites were killed and the species has been extinct in the wild until this week’s transfer. At this point, the goal is merely to pass on as much of the subspecies’ lineage as possible.

The move was made thanks to Alastair Lucas, Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs in Australia. Lucas stated that he became involved with the northern white rhino project earlier this year after visiting Uganda and being told parks there no longer have rhinos. He declined to say how much he donated or the cost of moving the animals. “It just seemed to me extraordinary that no one was picking this up and doing something,” Lucas told The Associated Press on Sunday as he watched the rhinos unloaded into large pens. “It seemed to me to be such an important project. “From where I stand, in 20 years they die out. It seems to me better to give them one last chance,” Lucas said.

However, there has still been much controversy over the move and whether or not the Rhinos will reproduce. Randy Rieches, curator of mammals for the San Diego Wild Animal Park states that, “It makes no sense to move them at this point in time. It’s way too little, too late, that’s based on a lot of knowledge, a lot of husbandry and certainly a lot of reproductive background.”

Dana Holeckova, director of the Dvur Kralove zoo made this plea to Kenya and the rest of the world, “We have sent you the diamonds of our zoo, the last fertile Northern White rhinos kept in captivity. They are beautiful animals, they love people, they care about people. Please care about the rhinos, don t give them to poachers.”

But in the end the fate of this great species, their last chance for survival, rests in their hands.