The northern white rhino will soon join a growing list of species that will never again walk the earth — with only four left, all hope has been lost of recovering the subspecies.
When a 31-year-old female rhino named Nabire died Monday from complications of a ruptured cyst, she left just four members of her species behind. The species survived for millions of years, but was unable to outlast poachers, who hunted them for their horns.
“Her death is a symbol of the catastrophic decline of rhinos due to a senseless human greed. Her species is on the very brink of extinction.”
Nabire, who died at the same zoo she was born in, wasn’t able to breed and produce offspring because of the uterine cysts, which eventually took her life. Researchers harvested eggs from her healthy left ovary and stored them in an Italian lab.
A last minute breeding program moved a breeding pair and another female from the Czech zoo where Nabire died to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, in the hopes the wild environment would help them reproduce.
Unfortunately, the last remaining male, named Sudan, had too low of a sperm count to be able to breed, naturally forcing scientists to use in vitro fertilization to produce more rhinos.
That effort failed, but the three rhinos still live under armed guard to protect them from poachers who slaughter the animals for their horns.
There is also an elderly female northern white rhino in the San Diego zoo, where researchers are collecting genetic material to preserve the animal’s genome.
There is some small hope that scientists can use the collected genetic materials to implant an embryo in the southern white rhino, which is more numerous.
Poachers have driven the animals to extinction for their ivory horns, which are worth about $36,000 on the Asian black market. In the 1960s, there were about 2,000 northern white rhinos in Africa, but war and poaching killed them off.
The last western black rhino died in 2011, leaving only a few species of rhino remaining on the planet.
Every year, at least 200 species go extinct during what scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction event. Humans, however, are the sole cause of this one.
African elephants and giraffes are also looking extinction in the face thanks to those same poachers who killed off the rhinos. The number of giraffes in the world has dropped 40 percent in 15 years, leaving only 80,000 where they once numbered 140,000.
Experts encourage countries with endangered species to engage in conservation efforts to save the animals, but can’t always convince government officials they’re right.
Meanwhile, private conservation groups like the WWF continue their efforts to preserve the world’s endangered animals.