Conservation news

Nola, one of the last four northern white rhinos in the world, dies at San Diego Zoo

  • On November 22, Nola, a critically endangered female northern white rhino, was euthanized due to her deteriorating health.
  • Nola’s death brings the northern white rhinos dangerously close to extinction.
  • The remaining three, potentially breeding, northern white rhinos live at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

On November 22, Nola — a 41-year old, critically endangered female northern white rhino — died at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California. With just three northern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum ssp. cottoni) left in the world, Nola’s death brings these animals dangerously close to extinction.

According to a statement by the San Diego Zoo, Nola had a large abscess, deep under her right hip. Despite attempts at draining her abscess and treating her infection, Nola’s health took a turn for the worse. She began showing signs of a “reduced appetite and activity level,” the statement said.

Finally, to relieve Nola of her pain and discomfort, the animal care team at the Safari Park euthanized her on November 22.

“In the last 24 hours Nola’s condition worsened significantly and the animal care team at the Safari Park were maintaining her on intensified treatment efforts,” the San Diego Zoo said in the statement. “Early this morning, the team made the difficult decision to euthanize her.”

Nola had lived at the San Diego Zoo since 1989. She was paired with a male northern white rhino named Angalifu in the hopes of successful reproduction, but Nola did not become pregnant. Angalifu died in December last year at the age of 42.

41 year old Nola, a critically endangered northern white rhino, was euthanized on November 22 because of her deteriorating health. Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Northern white rhinos are believed to be extinct in the wild, mainly due to poaching for their horns. The last known wild population in the Garamba National Park, and surrounding areas in Democratic Republic of Congo, is now considered to have gone extinct, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“There have been no reported live sightings of any of the last four rhinos since 2006 or their signs since 2007 despite an intensive systematic ground search looking for rhinos and their signs in 2008,” IUCN notes. “Additional aerial searches and field range patrols have also not found any remaining rhino although one carcass has been found.”

The remaining three, and potentially breeding, northern white rhinos — a 43-year-old male, Sudan, and two females, 26-year-old Najin and 15-year-old Fatu — live at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. But these animals may have reproductive issues, according to another statement by the San Diego Zoo.

Following the announcement of Nola’s death, the San Diego Zoo received an outpouring of condolences from around the world.

“There are no words to adequately express the depth of the loss of Nola,” Randy Rieches, curator of mammals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, said in the statement. “It is a very difficult time for our staff right now as they have worked with and cared for Nola for 26 years. Our hearts are broken over the loss of Nola and knowing her subspecies is now three individuals from extinction makes it even more difficult for of all of us who work with and love rhinos. But, we are not willing to give up.”