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San Diego Zoo Gets More Rhinos In Effort To Save Species

Southern white rhinoceroses at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Nov. 6, 2015.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Southern white rhinoceroses at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Nov. 6, 2015.

A half-dozen southern white rhinoceroses Friday were spending their first full day at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where they'll become part of an ambitious effort to save their northern white rhino cousins.

The southern white rhinos — all females between the ages of 4 and 7 — arrived via chartered jet Thursday evening from South Africa, and will be quarantined for at least 30 days.

"We are beyond thrilled to welcome these southern white rhinos to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and our new Rhino Rescue Center," said Steve Metzler, interim associate curator of mammals, who accompanied the animals to San Diego.

"The animals did extremely well during the flight, eating normally and sleeping a good portion of the long trip," Metzler said. "Our priority now is to ensure the rhinos are comfortable and acclimating to their new surroundings."

The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research hopes to develop embryos from frozen northern white rhino cells and implant them in the southern white rhinos, which would serve as surrogate mothers.

Researchers at the institute, along with collaborators, are developing reproductive techniques to develop northern white rhino embryos from cells stored in the institute's Frozen Zoo, which stores genetic materials.

The effort is critical because only four northern white rhinos exist in the world — one at the Safari Park and three at a reserve in Kenya — and three of them are too old to reproduce normally.

The researchers said that while many challenges are ahead, they're optimistic a northern white rhino calf could be born from an experimental process within 10 to 15 years. The technologies could also be applied to other rhino species, including critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

Over the years, a total of 94 southern white rhinos, 68 greater one- horned rhinos and 14 black rhinos have been born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.