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Jeremy Bednarsh White Rhinoceros

A northern white rhino eats while park rangers, armed to the teeth, stand by to protect it from poachers.

Once upon a time, the northern white rhino ranged through Uganda, South Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Their horns, which are frequently used in traditional medicine, net a high price on the black market, making the species a prime target for poachers.  There were over 2,000 of them during the 1960s, although their numbers began to decline steadily afterwards.  During the 1970s and 1980s, poachers reduced their population from 500 to 15.  Now, however, their numbers have dwindled down to five after the death of Angalifu, who lived at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, on Sunday.  Zoo officials haven’t yet determined the animal’s cause of death, although Angalifu had recently been under veterinary care due to a lack of appetite.

Today, the only surviving northern white rhinos are kept in zoos.  The five remaining rhinos are one at San Diego Zoo Safari Park (a female named Nola), one in a zoo in the Czech Republic and three that were sent to a wildlife conservancy in Kenya from the Czech zoo.  The northern white rhino is one of the two subspecies of white rhinoceros.  The other subspecies, named the southern white rhino, currently numbers about 20,000 around the world.

Across the world, the rhinoceros has been targeted for its horn, which nets a high value on the black market.  To prevent poaching in certain areas, park rangers have tranquilized rhinos and removed their horns while the animals are knocked out.  Nonetheless, rhinos remain a target for poachers, particularly in Asia.  The Sumatran and Javan rhinoceros species in Indonesia, for example, are on the brink of extinction as well, only located in isolated parts of remote jungle, where they remain at risk of both habitat loss and poaching, and many conservationists are afraid that they, like the northern white rhinoceros, could be extinct within the next 20 years or so.