Mar 17

There was a glimmer of hope recently for the Critically Endangered northern white rhino, a subspecies of the white rhino, as news emerged that the individuals translocated from Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in December 2009  have begun to mate.

Photo of a northern white rhinoceros in a transport crate

A northern white rhinoceros getting used to the transport crate at Dvůr Králové Zoo, Czech Republic

With the northern white rhinoceros feared Extinct in the Wild and only 8 individuals remaining in captivity, the outlook for this subspecies seemed bleak, especially since the rhinos had not reproduced for several years. As part of a final bid to save the subspecies, the decision was made to take four individuals back to the wild to try and induce normal social and territorial behaviour and encourage the rhinos to begin mating.

Photo of a northen white rhinoceros in transit

A northern white rhino in a transport crate in the cargo hold of a Boeing 747 aeroplane between Prague and Nairobi

The project was carried out by a partnership of conservation organisations including Fauna & Flora International, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Dvůr Králové Zoo, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Back to Africa and the Kenya Wildlife Service and the translocation was featured in the BBC’s Last Chance to See series presented by Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine.

Photo of northern white rhinocerous in small enclosure

The initial release of a northern white rhino into a small enclosure at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

The rhinos, named Sudan, Suni, Najin and Fatu, were initially kept within small enclosures and closely monitored for the first few weeks. After recieving “fence training” to ensure that they would respect the electric fencing and being dehorned to prevent any injuries occurring after they were re-introduced to each other, the rhinos were given more room and eventually released to a larger area of over 700 acres.

Photo of a northern white rhinoceros being given a health check

A game ranger and vet checking on a northern white rhinoceros after its initial release

Finally, in early 2011, the moment everyone had been waiting for finally came and word quickly spread that the rhinos had started to mate. The younger male Suni was the first to make a move on female Fatu and since then Sudan, the older male, has also mated with Aramiet, a southern white female. Everyone at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy was thrilled to see that the old boy has still “got it” and now the team are keeping their fingers crossed for a conception and confirmation of pregnancy in the next few months.

Photo of a northern white rhinoceros in the wild

The northern white rhinos have now been rehabilitated back in the wild

Although this subspecies still teeters dangerously close to extinction, this breakthrough is certainly a step in the right direction.

Why not check out our selection of white rhinoceros photos and videos on ARKive and read more about the project on the Last Chance to Save the Northern White Rhino website.

Return of the Rhino: A Last Chance to See Special is being shown again on BBC One at 02:55 on Friday.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher