Escondido, California - The San Diego Zoo Safari Park welcomed some big arrivals Thursday evening (Nov. 5): Six southern white rhinos arrived via a chartered MD-11 flight from South Africa. The female rhinos, between four and seven years of age, were relocated to the Safari Park from private reserves in South Africa as part of a collaborative conservation effort to save the critically endangered northern white rhino—and all rhino species—from extinction.
A member of the Safari Park animal care staff flew to South Africa earlier this week to accompany the rhinos, along with a veterinarian from South Africa, on the 22-hour flight from Johannesburg to San Diego. The rhinos were transported in individual crates specially designed for the transport. Upon arrival in San Diego, the crates were loaded onto two flatbed trucks and driven to the Safari Park’s new Rhino Rescue Center, built specifically for the new arrivals. Once at the Park, a team of veterinarians and keepers unloaded the animals into fenced yards, where they will remain under a mandatory quarantine for at least 30 days.
“We are beyond thrilled to welcome these southern white rhinos to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and our new Rhino Rescue Center,” said Steve Metzler, interim associate curator of mammals, who accompanied the animals from South Africa to San Diego. “The animals did extremely well during the flight, eating normally and sleeping a good portion of the long trip. Our priority now is to ensure the rhinos are comfortable and acclimating to their new surroundings.”
San Diego Zoo Global has been working for decades, along with other accredited zoos, to keep a sustainable population of rhinos safe under human care while working to protect them in sanctuaries in the wild. To further this commitment, the Rhino Rescue Center was recently built to house the new southern white rhinos, establishing the Safari Park as a sanctuary to protect these rhinos—at a time when an average of three rhinos are killed each day in the wild by poachers.
Poaching of all rhino species has reached critically high numbers in recent years. A rhino is poached every eight hours in South Africa. Rhinos are poached for their horns, which are made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails. At the current rate of poaching, rhinos could become extinct in 15 years.
The northern white rhino is the most critically endangered rhino, with only four individuals remaining in the world. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to Nola, a 41-year-old female northern white rhino. Three other northern white rhinos (one male and two females) are in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
The six female southern white rhinos will be a part of San Diego Zoo Global’s science-based rhino conservation efforts to save the northern white rhino. Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, along with collaborators, are developing reproductive techniques to develop northern white rhino embryos (from cells stored in the institute’s Frozen Zoo®) to be implanted in the southern white rhinos, which will serve as surrogate mothers. There are many challenges ahead, but researchers are optimistic a northern white rhino calf could be born from these processes within 10 to 15 years. These technologies may also be applied to other rhino species, including the critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinos.
San Diego Zoo Global has one of the most successful rhino breeding programs in the world. To date, a total of 94 southern white rhinos, 68 greater one-horned rhinos and 14 black rhinos have been born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
For more information on San Diego Zoo Global’s rhino conservation efforts, visit sandiegozoo.org/rhinos .
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.