The last two Northern White Rhinos

The Northern White Rhino is on the verge of extinction. There are only two living animals left - two females. They live closely guarded in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. The international BioRescue consortium is trying to make the impossible possible with frozen sperm, advanced assisted reproductive technologies, and stem cell-associated techniques.
Northern White Rhinos Ol Pejeta - Nördliches Breitmaulnashorn (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)

Kenya. Fatu and Najin are the two last Northern White Rhinos in the world. Both are females – mother and daughter. They live fiercely guarded in an enclosure at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Even more well guarded and deeply chilled in liquid nitrogen, are five embryos, created from Fatu and Najin’s eggs and frozen sperm from the deceased Sudan, the last male rhino of the species.

Non-assigned, unpaid advertising.

Table of Contents

When Najin and Fatu die, their species will have disappeared from our planet. But the last two northern white rhinos know nothing of this. They graze contentedly in their enclosure at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. As I watch them from our safari vehicle, I try to capture them with my camera. I want to tell their story so that these two animals will not be forgotten. And to keep us humans from forgetting. From forgetting that many other species are in the same situation as the northern white rhinos. These two rhinos stand as representatives for about 130 species that are becoming extinct every day around the world. Species that are lost forever.

But there is still a spark of hope for the rhinos.

Northern White Rhinos Ol Pejeta - Nördliches Breitmaulnashorn (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
Some treats for the last Northern White Rhinos (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

Hunted, endangered, hunted some more – and now?

The Northern White Rhino was common in Uganda, Chad, Sudan, the Congo as well as the Central African Republic. However, due to poaching, civil war and habitat destruction, the population declined dramatically until these rhinos only lived in zoos. In 2009, only seven northern white rhinos lived in the entire world.

About 22% of mammals are currently threatened with extinction.

Relocation from the Zoo to Kenya

In December 2009, four of the rhinos were moved from Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic to Ol Pejeta. Najin, Fatu, Sudan and Suni moved into their 700-acre enclosure. Two males and two females. The hope was that they would behave naturally in a natural environment and consequently produce offspring. However, this hope was not fulfilled.

Northern White Rhinos Ol Pejeta - Nördliches Breitmaulnashorn (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
There are three rhinos living in the enclosure in Ol Pejeta Conservancy: two northern and one southern black rhino.

Seven becomes Two

In October 2014, Suni died of natural causes in his enclosure. A few years later, the rhinos at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic Nabire, and at the San Diego Zoo also died. That is to say that now only Sudan, Najin and Fatu are left. A small family: Sudan is the father of Najin and Najin is the mother of Fatu.

Last Northern White Rhinos in Ol Pejeta
Of the four Northern white Rinos who used to live here, only Najin and Fatu are still alive.

The horns of the northern white rhinos have been severely shortened. This makes them less attractive to poachers. Nevertheless, the enclosure is guarded around the clock by armed rangers to protect the animals. But sadly, the rhinos could not be protected before the biological clock ran out. Sudan died at the age of 45. He had to be euthanized due to age-related health problems on March 19, 2018.

Cemetery of the Rhinos

Sudan found his last place of peace at the rhino cemetery in Ol Pejeta. Here he lies together with about 15 other rhinos that perished here in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Most fell victim to poachers and met a gruesome death.

Gravestone Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino
Gravestone of the last male Northern White Rhino at the rhino cemetary, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

Sudan was the last male northern white rhino. In the hope of still saving the species, sperm was taken from him. So a part of him is still alive – frozen in the Avantea Laboratory in Italy. The sperm of three other northern white rhinos is also stored here.

Rhino Cemetery Ol Pejeta Kenya - Nashorn Friedhof
Rhino Cemetery in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

Ishirini

Female Black Rhino

Born 17th May 1996
Died 22nd Feb 2016

Rhino likely killed by use of poisoned arrows. The security team found her writhing in pain with the horns already chopped off. She was 12 month pregnant.
   

Carol

Female Black Rhino

Born 15th June 1980
Died 2nd Dec 2015

Gunshots reported in 2nd December in the evening and carcass found the next day.
Both horns were missing.

Southern White Rhinos as Teachers

Today, in 2021, only Najin and Fatu live in Ol Pejeta Conservancy. They have company from a southern white rhino named Tauwa. She and her conspecifics were teachers for the new arrivals from the zoo back in 2009. They had to learn how to live as a rhino in the “wilderness” of a natural enclosure.

The rhinos are also often visited by interested safari guests. The entrance fee supports the species conservation project and the rhinos always get a bucket with some treats.

Northern White Rhinos Ol Pejeta - Nördliches Breitmaulnashorn (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
The Northern White Rhinos get a visit from interested safari guests.

A Spark of Hope

Artificial insemination is not easy, even in humans. Nevertheless, the technique has already been used successfully in dogs and other domestic animals. But with rhinos? Here, there has been no experience whatsoever.

In 2015, 20 international scientists finally came together to make the impossible possible: to find a strategy to save the northern white rhino. They developed an approach combining advanced assisted reproductive technologies (aART) and stem cell-associated techniques (SCAT).

During four procedures under full anesthesia, multiple immature oocytes could be retrieved from Najin and Fatu. Subsequent incubation and fertilization of the eggs with thawed rhino sperm was successful and five viable embryos grew. They are stored frozen in liquid nitrogen. They are now waiting to be implanted into a substitute mother rhino. There are no empirical reports for this either. Therefore, artificial insemination is first being tested in a southern white rhino.

This innovative rescue operation is being carried out by the international BioRescue consortium in the Department of Reproductive Management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Who will get the mother role? A young southern white rhino has already been selected for this important task. She has already raised a cub once and thus proved her capability.

Northern White Rhinos Ol Pejeta - Nördliches Breitmaulnashorn (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
Northern White Rhino looking at the visitors, Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Rhinos - Facts and Figures

  • Length: 2.5 and 3.8 m
  • Shoulder height: 1.2 to 1.8 m
  • Weight: 500 kg to 3,600 kg
  • Distribution: Africa south of the Sahara and in South and Southeast Asia
  • Habitat: savannahs and tropical rainforests
  • Speed: up to 45 km/h
    Gestation period: 15 to 18 months; one young animal
  • Life expectancy: between 30 and 50 years
  • Food: Plants such as grass, leaves, twigs, branches, buds and fruits.
  • Enemies: For young animals: big cats and hyenas, occasionally wild dogs. For adults: humans.
  • Threats: Poaching and habitat destruction.

ebook WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

15 TIPS for better PHOTOS​

Get your 19-page ebook full of photo tips for better wildlife photos.

Learn about preparation, camera settings, backgrounds and foregrounds, image composition, light and much more.

Links and further Information

Ol Pejeta Conservancy: Northern White Rhinos.
https://www.olpejetaconservancy.org/wildlife/rhinos/northern-white-rhinos/. Downloaded on 12 January 2021.

Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research: “BioRescue – Advanced reproductive technologies for saving critically endangered mammals like the northern white rhinoceros.” http://www.izw-berlin.de/en/biorescue-advanced-reproductive-technologies-for-saving-critically-endangered-mammals-like-the-northern-white-rhinoceros.html. Downloaded on 12 January 2021.

“Kifaru” by Davis Hambridge (2019).  The movie tells the story of two Kenyan rhino caretakers, who protect and care for Sudan, the last male northern white rhino. A “must see”. http://kifaruthefilm.com/

“Stroop – Journey into the Rhino Horn War” by Bonne de Bod and Susan Scott (2018). The movie tells the shocking and touching story of the ongoing poaching of the rhinoceros and the trade in its coveted horn.  Here is the link to the trailer on YouTube.

shop prints and calendars

Find the perfect print for your home, office or to give as a gift. Choose from wildlife, landscapes, and more. Create your individual calendar.

Do you have any questions? Then I am looking forward to read your comments.

I would also be very happy if you share my article with your friends. Do you want to know right away when I have new photo tips for you? Then sign up for my newsletter or follow me on facebook.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also like

Northern White Rhinos Ol Pejeta - Nördliches Breitmaulnashorn (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)

The last two Northern White Rhinos

The Northern White Rhino is on the verge of extinction. There are only two living animals left – two females. They live closely guarded in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. The international BioRescue consortium is trying to make the impossible possible with frozen sperm, advanced assisted reproductive technologies, and stem cell-associated techniques.

Giraffe Centre Nairobi - Rothschild's giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi)- Rothschild Giraffe

Conservation breeding in the Giraffe Center Nairobi

The Rothschild Giraffe is one of the most endangered giraffe subspecies, mainly due to habitat loss. The Giraffe Centre Nairobi is raising public awereness about this endangered species and is well known for successful conservation breeding and environmental education.

Reticulated Giraffes Samburu National Park - Netzgiraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)

Hey, Giraffe! Nice to meet you!

IUCN has classified the giraffe as vulnerable due to a decrease in total population of 36-40% between 1985 and 2015. Yet they receive far less attention than other animals in Africa. This article is the continuation of my article on the Giraffe Center Nairobi with facts and interesting details about our largest land animal.

More Nature Photography

Have a look at the site of Regine Schadach. You will see a collection of fantastic nature pictures especially from the surroundings of Goslar at Harz, Germany. Animals, plants, fungi, mosses, lichens, landscapes, biotopes.
click here

Wanderlust?

You will find travel reports, tips and inspiration for near and far destinations on my travel blog Fernweh-Motive.
Wildlife experiences, hiking, kajaking, diving and snorkling, roadtrips and street art. Curious?
click here

ebook WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

15 TIPS for better PHOTOS​

Get your 19-page ebook full of photo tips for better wildlife photos.

Learn about preparation, camera settings, backgrounds and foregrounds, image composition, light and much more.

ebook WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

15 TIPS for better PHOTOS​

Get your 19-page ebook full of photo tips for better wildlife photos.

Learn about preparation, camera settings, backgrounds and foregrounds, image composition, light and much more.

ebook WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

15 TIPS for better PHOTOS​

Get your 19-page ebook full of photo tips for better wildlife photos.

Learn about preparation, camera settings, backgrounds and foregrounds, image composition, light and much more.

Scroll to Top