Lucie in Africa: the last two Northern White Rhinos

In November 2020, having had enough of Covid confinement, our Africa specialist Lucie Thaxter headed off to Kenya for an overdue Africa fix, and to find out first-hand what it was like travelling during these ‘interesting times’.

Lucie writes …

A highlight of the trip (and there were many) was going to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya’s Laikipia County where I took the opportunity to visit the last two known remaining Northern White Rhinos on the planet. Yep, that’s right, on the planet.

Najin and Fatu are mother and daughter and were brought to Kenya in 2009 from a zoo in the Czech Republic, along with 2 male Northern Whites, Sudan and Suni, in the hope that they would breed in a more natural environment.

In spite of the care and protection of the team at Ol Pejeta, the rhinos failed to breed and in 2014 Suni died of natural causes, followed by Sudan, the last male and possibly the most famous rhino in the world, in 2018.

So far so depressing right? But thankfully it’s not over, there is hope.  The future of the species lies in in-vitro fertilisation and stem cell technology, and so far this incredible endeavour has been successful. In December 2020 two new Northern White Rhino embryos were produced, bringing the total number of viable embryos to five. The next phase is to implant the embryos into Southern White Rhino females, and the success of the project and the survival of the species is dependent on this next step.

So where does tourism and the safari industry figure in all this?

Ol Pejeta is a conservancy in the heart of Kenya’s Laikipia region. It’s home to some of Africa’s most wildlife rich areas and is a prime safari destination. Like most wild areas in Africa it’s preservation and protection depends on revenue from tourism, and like most of Africa’s wildlife destinations Ol Pejeta has taken a very hard hit when visitors numbers took a nose dive due to Covid.

Kenya is very much open for tourism. The wildlife was amazing and it’s hard to think of anywhere you could be more socially distanced than when on safari. Wide open spaces and beautiful views are the perfect antidote to lockdown. All the camps and tourist related businesses were operating under strict but unobtrusive Covid protocols and eagerly awaiting the return of guests.

By visiting Laikipia and Ol Pejeta travellers are directly contributing towards the preservation of the environment, the wildlife, and the success of the next critical phase of the programme to save the Northern White Rhino.

The past few months have focused our minds very sharply on exactly how precious travel is, and the importance of travelling ‘for good’. I can’t think of many better ways of using your holiday spend to make a real, lasting contribution to the future of our wildlife.

Watch Channel 4’s Secret Safari: Into The Wild, featuring  Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya’s vast and beautiful wildlife conservancy. Go inside the lives of an incredible cast of wild animals – from elephants and hippos to lions, hyenas and ostriches. Available to watch now on All4.

Learn more about the project at www.biorescue.org

Northern White Rhinos Dark Sky

Photo credit: Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Read more at Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Photo credit: Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Read more in the Kenya Airways in-flight magazine, p21

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