White rhino dies in Czech zoo, seven left worldwide

Death of northern white rhino in a North Bohemian zoo brings known population of the highly endangered mammal down to seven

Raymond Johnston | 02.06.2011
Ranger Patrick Muriithi walks along with Max, a rare northern white rhino, in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Mt. Kenya. Armed rangers guard Max while he sleeps due to poachers

One of the world’s last known northern white rhinoceroses died in the Dvůr Králové Zoo in Northern Bohemia. Nesari, a female, was 39 years old. The death leaves the zoo with only one northern white rhino, a female named Nabire, according to the Czech News Agency (ČTK), which cited a regional edition of daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD).

The zoo in December 2009 sent four other northern white rhinos to the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya in the hope that they would breed better in a natural environment. Nesari was not included in the group because of her age and disease. “At the time of the transport, veterinarians predicted she would live for no longer than six months. It was actually a miracle that she lived until this spring,” zoo spokeswoman Jana Myslivečková told MfD.

The Dvůr Králové Zoo sent four rhinos to Kenya in 2009 in hopes they would breed better there

Aside from the four northern white rhinos that were transported to Kenya in 2009 and the one remaining in the Dvůr Králové Zoo, there are two in captivity are at the San Diego Zoo in the US.

“Northern white rhinos are the world’s rarest large mammal,” Dr. Rob Brett, Africa regional director of Fauna & Flora International and member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) African Rhino Specialist group, said in a December 2009 press release when the four rhinos were transported to Africa.

“They are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and are thought to be extinct in the wild. Moving them … is a last bid effort to save them and their gene pool from total extinction,” Brett said at the time. ‘Northern white rhinos are the world’s rarest large mammal ... and are thought to be extinct in the wild.’

Captive breeding of northern white rhino in zoos has had limited success, with breeding only occurring at Dvůr Králové Zoo. The last calf was born in 2000.

The exact number in the wild is not known although poachers reduced the estimated 500 that existed in the 1970s to just 15 by the 1980s. After some success in bringing the number above 30 in the early 2000s, it fell again.

The Dvůr Králové Zoo now only has one northern white rhino, a female named Nabire

A June 2008 report UK weekly The Sunday Times reported that the last four known wild northern white rhinos were feared to have been killed for their horns, as they could not be located. Rhino horn powder is used in traditional Chinese medicine, and trades for $1,610 an ounce — slightly more than gold, according to conservationists.

The southern white rhino — distinct subspecies — is more numerous, with more than 17,400 in the wild. The rhinos aren’t actually white, and some experts claim the name is a mistranslation from a Dutch word meaning wide, as they have wider mouths than other types of rhino. 

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