San Diego Zoo Global was notified this weekend that Suni, a 34-year-old northern white rhinoceros at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, had died. While the cause of death hasn’t been determined, it is not believed to be an incident of poaching. The death of this male northern white rhino adds another challenge in the fight to prevent this critically endangered species from going extinct.
There are now just six northern white rhinos left on Earth. Three remain in the care of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, one lives at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic and two are in the African plains exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, a male named Angalifu and a female named Nola (pictured).
“This is a big loss, but we’ve been very successful with species in similar situations and we are hopeful that with a lot of the work we’re doing here, we can turn the situation around,” said Andy Blue, associate curator of mammals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Arabian oryx were down to very few animals in the late 1960s and have since been bred back up at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. We have had over 400 of them born here and have reintroduced them back into the wild.”
San Diego Zoo Global has also had great success with breeding the California condor. When the organization first began its breeding program, there were only 22 California condors left in the world. Today, there are more than 400, 232 of which fly free in California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico. Many of the now-wild condors were hatched in breeding facilities and then introduced into their native range habitats, but some have been hatched to those introduced condors and have lived their entire lives in the wild, which is good news for their ecosystem.
The loss of one animal in a species as rare as the northern white rhino can have a significant impact on the ability to save it from extinction. Despite this challenge, the animal care staff at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and researchers and scientists at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research remain hopeful and continue to work toward saving the northern white rhino through ongoing research of the reproductive system of this species, collecting and saving genetic material from animals that have died and looking into alternate breeding methods for this species.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has the most successful captive breeding program for rhinoceroses in the world. There have been 92 southern white rhinos, 67 greater one-horned rhinos and 13 black rhinos born at the Safari Park since it opened 42 years ago. While the northern white rhinos at the Safari Park were never able to successfully breed, this was most likely due to their age when they arrived at the facility. Guests at the Safari Park can see the two northern white rhinos when they take the African Tram tour, which is included with admission to the Park.
Photo taken on October 21, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo
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