Hannah Gabel, Staff Writer
On March 19, the last Northern White Rhino male passed away at the age of 45. With his death, only two females are left of the entire species. The Northern White Rhinos are currently listed as critically endangered, and are on the brink of full extinction, unless a scientific breakthrough occurs soon. Neither of the females will be physically fit to carry a calf, whether due to age or reproductive inabilities.
There are two subspecies of white rhinos: the northern and the southern. Northern White Rhinos tend to be a little smaller than the southern rhinos and lack the fine hairs that are typically seen on Southern White Rhinos. The Northern White Rhinos used to thrive around Uganda, Sudan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and other surrounding areas.
However, once poaching hit worrying peaks throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Northern White Rhino population rapidly declined in the wild. In the ‘90s, the species was fluctuating between 20 to 30 rhinos in total, all surviving in one protected location to prevent further poaching and full extinction. In the early 2000s, an attempt was made to move a small handful of the rhinos to a conservation in Kenya. The plans failed, and this prevented what could have been the best option for maintaining the rhinos’ survival.
Despite all of this, there is still hope in resurrecting the number of the Northern White Rhino and bringing them out of extinction. Scientists have a store saved from the last male rhino’s sperm. Unfortunately, because the two remaining females are directly related to the last male that passed, and because of anatomical complications, they cannot be carriers for the calves. Scientists have hope however in being able to artificially inseminate a female from the Southern White Rhino population with the Northern male’s sperm. If this could be accomplished, the Northern White Rhinos could continue to survive, and potentially be removed from the edge of extinction. However, this could produce numerous complications and would not be an easy task to accomplish, as the surrogate mother could reject the DNA and be unable to carry a calf to term. Artificially inseminating rhinos has an exremely low success rate as well, with only 10 cases where it worked, over the course of 15 years. The plan would need a lot of development, revision, and careful work to be able to have a better chance of being successful.
There are always the concerns as well with scientific interference in the preservation of animals, especially when it comes to such extreme methods. Artificially inseminating other rhino species could not only fail but could be damaging to the surrogate mothers. When does conservation cross the line to animal abuse of other species? How ethical is it to try and resurrect a species of rhino by using another species as test subjects?
Northern White Rhinos are not the only rhinos that have been at risk of extinction, Javan Rhinos and Sumatran Rhinos are also critically endangered, with numbers barely over 50 for the Javan Rhinos, and barely over 100 for the Sumatran. Conservation efforts are in full force for both those species, finding safe places for them to thrive and be able to continue breeding so the numbers grow.
While it may be too late for the Northern White Rhinos, this teaches a lesson in working hard and quick, to save animals from extinction instead of waiting. The Northern White Rhinos could have been preserved easier if action had been taken earlier, but due to a variety of complications and a lack of knowledge on rhinos, they were not prioritized to be saved. With quick acting and a strong willingness, other rhino species are being maintained and preserved before they get to the point of critical endangerment, and thus will be able to live and thrive for a long time yet. As for the Northern White Rhinos, these are not the first, nor will they be the last species to be on the verge of extinction, and their future remains unknown.