Zoo receives outpouring of support after rare rhino’s death

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Nola, a rare northern white rhino, roamed around her habitat. (San Diego Zoo Safari Park)

SAN DIEGO — San Diego Zoo Global officials said Monday they’ve received an international outpouring of sympathy since the weekend death of Nola, one of the last remaining northern white rhinos in the world.

Just three northern white rhinos are left following the weekend death of Nola, a 41-year-old female, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Nola — the last of her kind in North America — was euthanized Sunday at the San Pasqual-area park, according to a San Diego Zoo Global statement.

She had undergone surgery earlier this month to remove a large abscess deep in her pelvic region, and although 90 percent of the infected material was removed, Nola rejected food and was lethargic in the days afterward.

Her condition took a significant turn for the worse early Sunday, according to the zoo. She had been monitored around the clock.

Nola, who had lived at the Safari Park since 1989, had also been fighting a bacterial infection and age-related health issues for the past few months. Her male companion, Angalifu, died at the age of 44 last December.

“There are no words to adequately express the depth of the loss of Nola,” said Randy Rieches, curator of mammals at the Safari Park.

“All of us at San Diego Zoo Global are grateful for the outpouring of condolences we have been receiving,” Rieches said. “Nola was truly an amazing animal and her story resonated with people not only in San Diego, but globally.”

He said it is a very difficult time for staff, who 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,” Rieches said. “But, we are not willing to give up.”

In recent months, representatives of the Safari Park and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya have held discussions on how to save the northern white rhinoceros.

The conservancy is home to Sudan, a 43-year-old male, and two females, 26-year-old Najin and 15-year-old Fatu. All three have what zoo officials termed “reproductive issues.”

Northern white rhinos became extinct in the wild in 2008 due to intense poaching.

Earlier this month, a half-dozen southern white rhinos were brought from South Africa to the Safari Park via chartered jet, as part of the zoo’s effort to save their northern white rhino cousins. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research hoped to develop embryos from frozen northern white rhino cells and implant them in the southern white rhinos, which would serve as surrogate mothers.

Zoo officials said genetic material from a dozen northern white rhinos is preserved at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

Nola arrived at the Safari Park in 1989 on a breeding loan from the Druv Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic.

Northern white rhinos were at critically low numbers at the time and San Diego Zoo Global was chosen to try and breed the subspecies. Nola and Angalifu mated, but Nola never became pregnant.

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