The Northern White Rhino took one more step toward its seemingly inevitable extinction this week. On July 28, the Dvur Kralove Zoo in Labem, Czech Republic, confirmed that Nabire had died on Monday. Nabire was one of only five remaining in the world, leaving three females, one with a faulty uterus that could preclude breeding, and one male, her father Sudan, who is too old to breed at age 42. Nabire was going to be 32 this year in November.
Nabire suffered from a pathological cyst inside her body that ruptured, causing her death. Rhino curator Jiri Hruby said that “the pathological cyst inside the body of Nabiré was huge. There was no way to treat it.”
She was also highly regarded by staff and guests of the zoo, who recall her fondly. “It is a terrible loss,” said Zoo Director Premysl Rabas. “Nabiré was the kindest rhino ever bred in our zoo. It is not just that we were very fond of her. Her death is a symbol of the catastrophic decline of rhinos due to a senseless human greed. Her species is on the very brink of extinction.”
Rhinos of all types have been teetering on the brink of extinction for decades, thanks primarily to poaching. The ivory in their horns is highly prized by people who have no moral compass and still believe in magical healing powers from animal parts. Others see owning forbidden or expensive goods such as poached ivory as a status symbol and sign of wealth, when all it really shows is how poor they are in ways that actually matter.
The Dvur Kralove Zoo has been working tirelessly for 40 years to try to recover and prolong the species. They brought a group of four, two males and two females, to the zoo in 1975, two of whom are still alive. One is the last living male, Sudan, who now lives in Kenya with two of the surviving females, Najin and Fatu. Nola, the other remaining female, lives in San Diego.
While it may seem hopeless for the species with no male breeding stock left alive, all is not lost. In fact, Nabire herself may still be able to give new life to the species, assuming her uterus and ovaries are healthy enough for breeding experiments. Immediately following her death, the viable parts were rushed to a laboratory in Italy where research and experiments can be done in order to try to save the species.
While the Northern White Rhino has fallen into dangerously low population numbers, all of which are in captivity, the Southern White Rhino has seen more success. South Africa has led the charge to rebound the southern species to numbers of around 20,000. If necessary, plans to breed the viable female northerns with their southern cousins could be enacted as well.
The world lost one more unique animal today, but hopefully Nabire’s death can highlight the issue of poaching. At the very least, her death could lead to new life for her species through the donation of her reproductive organs.