The News Minute | December 16, 2014 | 02:06 pm IST
The slowly shrinking world for endangered species was dealt another blow recently when a northern white rhinoceros died at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. 44-year-old Angalifu apparently died of old age. His death leaves only 5 northern white rhino worldwide, all in captivity, pushing the species further down on the brink of extinction.
"Angalifu's death is a tremendous loss to all of us, not only because he was well beloved here at the park but also because his death brings this wonderful species one step closer to extinction," safari park curator Randy Rieches told the AP in a statement.
Their numbers had been progressively dwindling in past years. From nearly 2000 rhinos in the 1960â€™s, the number reduced drastically to just 15 in the 1980â€™s, all because of poachers.
The white rhinoâ€™s horns are valued as dagger handles and are mistakenly seen as an aphrodisiac, their purported healing powers for Asian medicine leading upto a high demand in the black market.
Angalifuâ€™s death has left one northern white rhino-a female named Nola in the San Diego Zoo, in addition to a male and two females in Kenya and another elderly female in the Czech Republic.
Park conservationists had made attempts to mate Angalifu with Nola , but they proved unsuccessful. Even at the park in Kenya, the preservationists conceded their breeding experiments had failed and the white rhinos would not be able to reproduce naturally in the future.
This has shifted the focus from keeping the species alive, to in vitro fertilization. The San Diego zoo has preserved Angalifuâ€™s sperms for these future experiments, which now seem to be the last hope for this species.
The reason why conservationists still havenâ€™t given up on the northern rhinos is because of a remarkable turnaround of their sibling southern species. The southern white rhinos almost went extinct at the end of the 19th century, plunging down to only 20 at one point. But after the discovery of a small population in Africa, decades of conservation efforts gradually brought them back to life. Today there are about 20,000 southern white rhinos in the world.
As poachers threaten to wipe out another species from the face of this planet, this little glimmer of hope for the northern white rhino could perhaps be able to compensate for the loss of Angalifu.