Welcome to Kenya
Special: Can the Northern White Rhinoceros come back?
Over two months ago I wrote my second installment of the Welcome to Kenya blog collection. In it, I told the shortened version of the story of the northern white rhinos. Please read about it here for context before continuing.
Recently, social media blew up over a posted picture of Jimmy John Liautaud, the founder and owner of Jimmy Johns, posing in front of a dead African elephant, which he had killed as part of a hunting game drive. This upset me very much. Not only does this type of hunting make me cringe, but I’m also immediately concerned because I know that some species of African elephants are endangered. After doing more research, I found that Liautaud has also hunted giraffes, leopards, zebras, lions, and rhinoceroses. This last animal made me even more disgusted. There’s an actual picture on Twitter of Liautaud killing the last female northern white rhino in Mangetti Nation Park in Namibia. Liautaud has literally contributed to the endangerment of northern white rhinos.
So, I decided to do two things. First, I decided to #boycottjimmyjohns. I’ve never boycotted a restaurant before, but here goes nothing. I know that realistically, my boycott won’t make much of a difference to a restaurant chain that just keeps growing in popularity, but intentionally not supporting and/or giving money to this man makes me feel a little bit better. Secondly, I decided to check back up on those rhino eggs that were fertilized in August of this past year.
And so, in light of all of these recent events, I decided to write a special blog post beyond the original five I intended to write. And the news is in: the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Dvür Králové Zoo have created the first ever Northern White Rhino in-vitro embryos!
For decades the story of the northern white rhinoceros has been a tale of decline. The number of individuals shrank down to only two in 2018, rendering complete extinction as only a matter of time. An international consortium of scientists and conservationists has now achieved a milestone in assisted reproduction that may be a pivotal turning point in the fate of these magnificent animals. Using eggs collected from the two remaining females and frozen sperm from deceased males, they successfully created two northern white rhino embryos. The embryos are now stored in liquid nitrogen to be transferred into a surrogate mother in the near future.
This groundbreaking news provides the opportunity to save the northern white rhinos, one animal at a time. Now, I don’t want to make things seem happier than they are. This is a huge breakthrough, but there’s still a lot at risk. Having four northern white rhinos doesn’t mean the species can grow in strength. There are still many risks (as with any birth), and the potential to be able to make more rhino babies after these ones is still limited. It will take decades of research, work, and failed attempts at fertilization in order to bring back a small northern white population.
All we can hope is that the world sees these beautiful creatures and understands that losing them would be a devastating loss for our ecosystem and our world. I hope Kenya can work to protect these rhinos from poachers like Jimmy John Liautaud.