As of yesterday, there are only three northern white rhinos left in the whole wide world.
Nola, a 41-year-old, 4,000-pound rhino who has lived at the San Diego Zoo since 1989 was euthanized over the weekend. She had an infection that had been getting worse over the past few months. One zookeeper told the San Diego Union-Tribune in October, “It’s tough. It’s like having your 90-year-old aunt get sick, and there is nothing you can do except give her basic care and keep her comfortable.”
The remaining three rhinos are at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, and are protected from the threat of poachers by armed guards — northern-white-rhino horns are very valuable, which is mostly the reason for the species’ quick disappearance. According to the Guardian, the rhino horn is seen as a cure-all for maladies ranging from the head-splitting hangover to more life-threatening illnesses like cancer. However, the last three rhinos are also very old, and aren’t going to bring new rhino babies into the world. Conservancy staffers want to see if they can get eggs from the last two female northern white rhinos on Earth before they die of old age.
The San Diego Zoo is going to try to find out if southern white rhinos are similar enough to their northern brethren to act as surrogates for embryos. At this point, that is the only option for trying to keep the species from going completely extinct in captivity too. If that doesn’t work, the zoo might try making a hybrid north-south white rhino, which would be better than nothing.