13 April 2011

A new rhino species?

According to a new study based on genetic and physical research, the southern white rhino and the northern white rhino, typically considered as related subspecies, may in fact be entirely unique species.
If the scientific community accepts the researcher's arguments, the split into two unique species will have particularly severe implications for the conservation of the northern white rhino.
Only 8 northern white rhinos are currently confirmed to be alive, with four of these no longer being able to breed. The remaining four northern white rhinos, two female and two male, capable of saving the species are in a conservancy in Kenya where they are guarded around the clock.

From the Abstract of the study:
Dental morphology and cranial anatomy clearly diagnosed the southern and northern forms. The differentiation was well supported by dental metrics, cranial growth and craniometry, and corresponded with differences in post-cranial skeleton, external measurements and external features. No distinctive differences were found in the limited descriptions of their behavior and ecology. Fossil history indicated the antiquity of the genus, dating back at least to early Pliocene and evolution into a number of diagnosable forms. The fossil skulls examined fell outside the two extant forms in the craniometric analysis. Genetic divergence between the two forms was consistent across both nuclear and mitochondrial genomes, and indicated a separation of over a million years.

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