AboutZoos, Since 2008


North­ern white rhi­noc­eros, a dis­tinct species!

pub­lished 22 Decem­ber 2010 | mod­i­fied 23 Decem­ber 2011

The North­ern white rhi­noc­eros is on the verge of extinc­tion. To appre­ci­ate a ded­i­cated effort to save this form of white rhi­noc­eros, its tax­o­nomic sta­tus had to be made clear.

The two forms of white rhi­noc­eros; north­ern and south­ern, have had con­trast­ing con­ser­va­tion his­to­ries. After the south­ern form recov­ered from a few indi­vid­u­als at the turn of the 20th cen­tury to a pop­u­la­tion of a few thou­sand, the North­ern form, once fairly numer­ous is now crit­i­cally endan­gered. Less than 20 spec­i­mens live in the Garamba National Park (in-​situ) of the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of Congo, and an equal num­ber can be found in just two zoos (ex-​situ), Dvur Kralove Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

To save the North­ern white rhino from going extinct, urgent and coor­di­nated action must be taken. To deter­mine the impor­tance of the con­ser­va­tion effort, the tax­o­nomic sta­tus of the North­ern form is para­mount. In other words, is it worth the effort to save the North­ern White, because when there is not enough tax­o­nomic dif­fer­ence they might as well be con­sid­ered part of the same species as the South­ern white rhino. So, mak­ing both of them a sub­species, which makes it less inter­est­ing to give spe­cific atten­tion to the North­ern White.

Researchers from Aus­tralia, Sri Lanka and Czech Repub­lic re-​assessed the tax­on­omy, based on avail­able infor­ma­tion and using sev­eral tech­niques, mod­ern genet­ics among oth­ers. They found the two forms of white rhino to be mor­pho­log­i­cally and genet­i­cally dis­tinct, war­rant­ing the recog­ni­tion of the taxa for­merly des­ig­nated as sub­species — Cer­a­totherium simum simum the south­ern form and Cer­a­totherium simum cot­toni the north­ern form — as two dis­tinct species Cer­a­totherium simum and Cer­a­totherium cot­toni respec­tively. The recog­ni­tion of the north­ern form as a dis­tinct species has pro­found impli­ca­tions for its con­ser­va­tion. (Source: PloS-​one, 07.04.2010)

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