Saving The World’s Last 3 Northern White Rhino

It's a difficult and dangerous business.

29/06/2016 6:10 PM AEST | Updated 29/06/2016 6:10 PM AEST

Hearing Zachary Mutai speak about the three critically endangered rhinos in his care is like listening to a doting dad extoll the virtues of a beloved child.

“I know when they are happy, when they are nervous,” he said. “[These rhinos are] my passion.”

Mutai is the head keeper of the northern white rhino at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He oversees a trio of them: Sudan, a 42-year-old male, and two females, Najin and Fatu. They are the last three of their subspecies left in the world.

In a video uploaded by Great Big Story this week, Mutai and Dr. Stephen Ngulu, a wildlife veterinarian at the conservancy, discussed the enormous efforts that have been undertaken to keep Sudan, Najin and Fatu alive -- and to save their kind from impending extinction.

The three rhinos, who were moved from a zoo in the Czech Republic to Kenya in 2009, remain under 24-hour armed guard at the conservancy. Poachers were largely responsible for decimating the species, and they continue to be a threat.

To date, Sudan, Najin and Fatu have been incapable of breeding. So scientists are now turning to in-vitro fertilization as a last-ditch effort to save the northern white rhino. Although IVF is a challenging (and controversial) solution, it’s believed to be the only option left.

“Unless we act now, the northern white rhino will go extinct,” Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin told The Guardian in May. “And don’t forget that, once we have developed IVF and stem cell technologies to save it, we will then be able to use them to rescue other threatened species.”

Until then, the task at hand remains as hefty as the dying rhinos themselves.  

“No one has ever successfully used IVF on any rhino species,” said Susie Ellis of the International Rhino Foundation. “IVF requires specific conditions to mimic the uterine environment, and it will take a lot of time and enormous funding to perfect the methodology.”

Find out more about the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and their conservation work here.

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