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 Dvůr Králové zoo in the Czech Republic, where they’ve been for the past 30 years. 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.
The Northern white rhino has a sad history. 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. Rob Brett, director of Flora and Fauna International, acknowledges that inter-breeding with Southern white rhinos in Kenya is “inevitable”.
Whether or not they will even be able to breed is still up for debate. San Diego Wild Animal Park mammal curator Randy Rieches contends that there is no chance of breeding in the herd, due to reproductive pathologies that set in after a period of reproductive dormancy. On the other hand, Dana Holeckova, director of the Dvůr Králové zoo, said at the time of the transfer, “I feel so happy. It’s my birthday today and this is like a gift to Africa. There is a 90 percent chance they will reproduce and I hope that we will start a new group of Northern White rhinos in Africa.” Clearly, the jury is still out on the rhinos’ fate, and only time will tell.
The money for the transfer was supplied by Alastair Lucas, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs in Australia, explicitly for the purpose of relocating these rhinos.