28 December, 2014
Wildlife conservationists in Kenya are trying to save a rare kind of rhinoceros. So many northern white rhinos have been hunted and killed that they are almost extinct. There are only five northern white rhinos left. The workers hope they can save the rhinos by helping them breed.
Northern white rhinos once lived in an area from Uganda to the Democratic Republic of Congo. They could even be found as far north as Chad. But conservationists fear the northern white rhino may disappear within our lifetime.
Three northern white rhinos live at The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Workers with military weapons guard the rhinos as they walk, play and eat over a large area of natural grass and trees. The northern white rhinos live with groups of southern white rhinos. The two species of rhinos are closely related.
The three rhinos were brought to the conservancy in 2009 from a zoo in the Czech Republic. Workers hoped they would have a better chance of survival in a more-natural habitat.
But breeding has not been as successful as they had hoped. And the number of northern white rhinos continues to decrease.
One of the rhinos at the conservancy died in October. Another died at a zoo in the U.S. city of San Diego, California earlier this month. The San Diego zoo still has one northern white rhino left. The zoo in the Czech Republic also has one.
The last wild northern white rhinos were hunted and killed during conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the past ten years. Rhinos are killed because many people in Asia want the animals' horns. They believe the horns will help with medical problems. But researchers say there is no medicine in the horn, just a kind of hair.
The last male northern white rhino is 41 years old. He has been unsuccessful at producing young with a female rhino. So conservationists will use artificial methods to make a young female become pregnant. If that is not successful, they will try to fertilize a northern rhino egg and put it in the womb of a southern white rhino, who will act as a surrogate mother.
The last solution would be cross-breeding between the northern and southern white rhino species. The two types of rhinos are alike both physically and genetically. Southern white rhino populations have increased in the last one hundred years. If cross-breeding is successful, there is hope that some part of the northern white rhino species may still live on.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow reported this story from Kenya. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. Christopher was the editor.
Words in This Story
conservationist – n. someone who works to protect animals, plants, and natural resources or to prevent the loss or waste of natural resources; a person who is involved in conservation
cross-breed – v. to make two different kinds of animal produce offspring
extinct/extinction – n. the state or situation that results when something (such as a plant or animal species) has died out completely
surrogate – n. a person or thing that takes the place or performs the duties of someone or something else
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