The black market price for rhino horn now exceeds that of gold and cocaine. In Vietnam, horn is flaunted as a status symbol and believed to cure headaches, hangovers, even cancer. Rhino horn is in fact made of keratin, the same protein found in human fingernails.
Last year in South Africa, poachers killed 1,215 rhino for their horn, a 9,000% increase since 2007. In the case of the Northern White Rhino, the numbers have dropped from an estimated 2,000 in the 1960s to just four today. With no viable reproductive pairings among them, the Northern White Rhino will soon be extinct.
Three of the four existing Northern Whites are living on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, San Diego Zoo is home to the fourth. While the goal of conservationists on opposite sides of the globe is the same, their methods are worlds apart.
At Ol Pejeta, armed guards watch over Sudan, the last male Northern White, 24 hours a day. This is one of CEO Richard Vigne’s many approaches in the race against extinction. With the end of the subspecies looming, his rangers are the quiet protectors, standing in the line of fire for the Northern White Rhino.
But bringing the Northern White back will take more than guarding the fort. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is leading the charge to replenish their numbers.
Over the last several years, Dr. Barbara Durrant, Director of Reproductive Physiology at the San Diego Zoo, and her team have collected genetic material from the Northern White. Now, using six wild-born Southern White Rhino as a “model species,” Durrant’s team is pioneering artificial reproductive methodologies that will be applied to propagating the Northern White, even after the last four have passed away.
Despite the odds, it’s the positive action of conservationists to protect and replenish the Northern White, the most critically endangered subspecies of Rhino, thatwill eventually bring this species back.
FIVE explores not just the “what” and “how” of conservation, but also the “why”of conservationists’ commitment to their work. FIVE is a rallying cry to people around the world. We are the problem. We must be the solution.