SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Zoo has welcomed six southern white rhinos from South Africa in hopes they'll become surrogate mothers for the critically endangered northern white rhino.
Zoo officials said Friday that the six female southern white rhinos arrived to the zoo late Thursday after a 22-hour flight from Johannesburg. They were transported in individual crates and unloaded into fenced yards for a 30-day quarantine.
The rhinos are living at the zoo's new Rhino Rescue Center, built specifically for the six females. They will not be on public display.
The rhinos ate normally and slept for a good portion of their long flight, said Steve Metzler, interim associate curator of mammals at the zoo. Metzler was with the animals during the journey.
"Our priority now is to ensure the rhinos are comfortable and acclimating to their new surroundings," Metzler said in a statement.
Zoo researchers are working on developing northern white rhino embryos to be implanted in the six new arrivals, who will serve as surrogate mothers.
Just four northern white rhinos are left in the world, including 41-year-old Nola, a female who lives at the San Diego Zoo. The other three live in Kenya.
The subspecies has been decimated by poachers, who kill the rhinos for their horns. The horns are in high demand in parts of Asia where some people claim they have medicinal properties for treating everything from hangovers to cancer.
Southern white rhinos almost went extinct at the end of the 19th century, plunging down to only 20 at one point. Decades of conservation efforts gradually brought them back to life.
To date, the zoo said 94 southern white rhinos, 68 greater one-horned rhinos and 14 black rhinos have been born at the San Diego Zoo.
Researchers are hoping a northern white rhino calf could be born from a San Diego surrogate mother within 10 to 15 years.