Lufkin zoo responds to rhino death in Africa by supporting conservation

Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The world's only male northern white rhino died earlier this week, after falling ill, leading many to question the future of the species with only two females left.

For some, the northern white rhino's death feels like a definite end to that species. However, others believe that the animals could make a comeback.

"Obviously, the northern rhino population was in much worse trouble than the southerns are," said Ellen Trout Zoo curator Celia Falzone. "But, back in the early 1900s, the southern whites were less than two hundred, which is a lot better than three. But, they were going away."

Falzone speculated that the southern white rhino most likely exceeded the northern white rhino based on the level of attention that the South Africans paid more attention to their conservation efforts.

"Governments taking action in Africa made a difference," Falzone said. "Conservation legislation and conservationists made southern white rhino's comeback a possibility."

The pair of southern white rhinos at the zoo are a part of a species survival plan, because they are still classified as near threatened.

"Instead of just us managing these two rhinos, we're working together with other zoos to manage all of the rhinos, to produce a nice, healthy, viable population," Falzone said.

The current population in captivity reaches over 200 rhinos, each of which are given a breeding plan tailored to them specifically.

"They're people at universities and zoos studying different aspects and the more that we know, the more that we can do," Falzone said.

The in-vitro fertilization method being considered for the northern white rhinos is a relatively new conservation choice.

Even so, Falzone said that she and staff are still optimistic that their pair will mate naturally.

"We're still waiting for them to get to know each other better," Falzone said. "They're doing really well together. But, they're long-lived animals and this is a process that takes a while."

Sudan, the last, male northern white rhino, was 45 years old when he died, almost twice the age of the two southern white rhinos, at the Ellen Trout Zoo.

This species of rhino generally live until their 40s or 50s.

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