Nola, a northern white rhinoceros, stands in the pond of the Africa plains exhibit Tuesday at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo
Nola, a northern white rhinoceros, stands in the pond of the Africa plains exhibit Tuesday at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo

A San Diego Zoo Safari Park official said Tuesday he’s confident the northern white rhinoceros can be brought back from the brink of extinction despite the death in Kenya of one of the seven animals remaining in the world.

The 34-year-old male that died last weekend was kept at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The cause of death was unknown but it wasn’t believed to be poaching.

Two of the remaining six northern white rhinos are at the Safari Park.

“This is a big loss, but we’ve been very successful with species in similar situations and we are hopeful with a lot of the work we’re doing here, we can turn the situation around,” said Andy Blue, associate curator of mammals at the park. “Arabian oryx were down to very few animals in the late 1960s and have since been bred back up at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. We have over 400 of them born here and have reintroduced them back into the wild.”

The Safari Park also brought back the California condor from near-extinction. When a breeding program for the giant bird was launched in the 1980s, only 22 were believed to exist. The population is now estimated by the zoo to be over 400.

Researchers at San Diego Zoo Global said they are collecting genetic material from dead northern white rhinos and are looking into alternative forms of breeding.

The members of the species at the Safari Park — a male named Angalifu and a female named Nola — have been unable to breed, probably because they’re too old, park officials said.

Although those animals have not be able to breed, 92 southern white rhinos, 66 greater one-horned rhinos, and 13 black rhinos have been born at the Safari Park since it opened 42 years ago.

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.