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