San Diego Zoo Safari Park Rhino Expert Visits Three of Earth’s Four Remaining Northern White Rhinos in Kenya

A team from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park visited three northern white rhinos living in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya last month. These three rhinos, a male and two females, along with a single elderly female living at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, are the last remaining northern white rhinos on the planet.

Although two of the rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy are elderly, they appear to be in good condition. The encounter with the critically endangered rhinos was bittersweet for Randy Rieches, curator of mammals for the Safari Park and a board member of the International Rhino Foundation, who last saw these rhinos in the Czech Republic when a population of the species still existed in the wild.

“I was at the Dvur Kralove Zoo a week after the youngest, Fatu, was born,” said Rieches. “At the time, the population of northern white rhinos in the wild had stabilized, and Fatu’s birth seemed to be a hopeful sign.”

Northern white rhinos became extinct in the wild in 2008, due to intensified poaching. The team from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park visited the Kenya rhinos as part of an effort to begin collaborative efforts with the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to recover the species. Rieches spent time with each of the rhinos
and their caretakers before meeting with the Conservancy’s chief executive officer, Richard Vigne, to discuss the possibility of future collaborations.

“Whilst the predicament of northern white rhinos is calamitous, we are excited to forge close ties with San Diego to try and save the species. “San Diego (Zoo Global) has a rich and successful history in endangered species management and, between us and other collaborators, we hope that we can deploy cutting-edge science that will benefit not only the northern whites, but other species in the future,” said Richard Vigne.

Of the four northern white rhinos left in the world, one, Nola, lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Unfortunately, three of the remaining four rhinos are at an advanced age and no longer reproductive. However, genetic material from 12 northern white rhinos has been preserved in the Frozen Zoo® at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, for future reproductive opportunities.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy occupies approximately 139 square miles (360 square kilometers) of African savannah within the Laikipia District of Kenya and incorporates the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Laikipia carries large and growing wildlife populations and is home to almost 50 percent of Kenya’s black rhino population. Ol Pejeta Conservancy works to conserve wildlife, provide a sanctuary for great apes and generate income through wildlife tourism and complementary enterprise for reinvestment in conservation and community development.