Northern White Rhino: Now Ceratotherium cottoni?

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    Northern White Rhino: Now Ceratotherium cottoni?

    Using genetic data and re-assessing physical evidence, scientists write that they have uncovered a new species of rhino (Ceratotherium cottoni), long considered by biologists as merely a subspecies (Ceratotherium simum cottoni). Researchers write in an open access PLoS ONE paper published last year that evidence has shown the northern white rhino is in fact a distinct species from the more commonly known—and far more common—southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum, formerly Ceratotherium simum simum). If the scientific community accepts the paper's argument it could impact northern white rhino conservation, as the species would overnight become the world's most endangered rhino species with likely less than ten surviving.


    The researchers found that the skull of the northern and the southern white rhino are 'readily distinguished' and that the animals can be differentiated simply by looking at them. In addition, the genetic study found that the northern and southern white rhino diverged around a million years ago. "Its taxonomic distinctiveness argues strongly for its conservation, as its demise will mean the permanent loss of a unique taxon that is irreplaceable," write the authors.

    Currently 8 northern white rhinos are confirmed to survive, however four of these though are no longer able to breed. The last four northern white rhinos capable of saving the species were transferred from Dvur Králové Zoo (Czech Republic) in 2009 to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia/Kenya where they are guarded around the clock (the photo shows Suni, a male northern rhino, arriving in Africa).

    While dire, the situation may not be utterly hopeless. "The admirable success of the conservation histories of the Southern white rhino and the Indian rhino, both of which were brought back from the brink of extinction by successful conservation efforts, does, however, hold out hope that the northern white may yet be saved for posterity," write the authors.

    Conservationists hope that by providing the four rhinos—two males and two females—with their natural habitat will provide a better chance for breeding. Rhinos are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity.

    CITATION: Groves CP, Fernando P, Robovský J (2010), The Sixth Rhino: A Taxonomic Re-Assessment of the Critically Endangered Northern White Rhinoceros. PLoS ONE 5(4): e9703. Download complete article: PLoS ONE: The Sixth Rhino: A Taxonomic Re-Assessment of the Critically Endangered Northern White Rhinoceros

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