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New Study Finds the Northern White Rhino is Actually a Sixth Rhino Species

New information suggests that the Northern white rhino is a distinct species, not a subspecies

An exciting new study has re-assessed the taxonomy of the Northern white rhino and the Southern white rhino – and found they are actually two distinct species:

Ceratotherium simum 

&

Ceratotherium cottoni

Although the Northern white rhino is currently considered a subspecies of the white rhino, the latest research indicates otherwise.

In a groundbreaking new report The Sixth Rhino: A Taxonomic Re-Assessment of the Critically Endangered Northern White Rhinoceros, researchers Colin P. Groves, Prithiviraj Fernando, and Jan Robovsky found the Northern white rhino to be a genetically distinct species from the Southern white rhino.

On re-assessing the taxonomy of the two forms we find them to be morphologically and genetically distinct, warranting the recognition of the taxa formerly designated as subspecies; Ceratotherium simum simum the southern form and Ceratotherium simum cottoni the northern form, as two distinct species Ceratotherium simum and Ceratotherium cottoni respectively. The recognition of the northern form as a distinct species has profound implications for its conservation.

And world-renowned rhinoceros expert Dr. Kees Rookmaaker noted in the Rhino Resource Center Newsletter:

Hence there are now six species of rhinoceros, the new one known scientifically as Ceratotherium cottoni. This paper clearly shows the importance of taxonomy for policy in conservation.

Dr. Rookmaaker also said via the newsletter that it might even be time to re-name the two species. The Northern white rhino has historically been called “Cotton’s Rhino” and the Southern white rhino “Burchell’s Rhino”.

Distinguishing differences:

In addition to the two rhino species being genetically distinct, the authors found distinguishing differences in the teeth and skulls.

… the two differ absolutely in numerous respects: the skull is readily distinguished, the dentition is somewhat different, they can be differentiated externally apparently without error, there is evidently a fixed difference in a serum enzyme and they are clearly distinguishable genetically in analysis of both mitochondrial and nuclear genomes. Under the Phylogenetic Species Concept (the only objective concept applicable to allopatric forms), we have no option but to consider them specifically distinct.

There is also separation time of over a million years between the Northern white rhino and the Southern white rhino.

Genetic analysis clearly indicates a separation time of over a million years between the two taxa, justifying their recognition as separate species: Ceratotherium simum (Burchell, 1821) and Ceratotherium cottoni (Lydekker, 1908).

The Northern and Southern white rhinos were found to exhibit similar behavior, but a few identifiable physical traits were noted.

■ Northern white rhinos are smaller than Southern white rhinos

■ Northern white rhinos have fewer “wrinkles” around the eye than Southern white rhinos

■ Northern white rhinos have a straighter dorsal profile than Southern white rhinos

The authors conclude their report with a most appropriate thought:

In an age where billions of dollars are poured into saving companies going bankrupt and trillions into wars of arguable provenance, can we not spare a fraction of that to save a unique and charismatic megavertebrate and begin to address our disastrous impact on planet earth?

Illegal killing for rhino horn has reduced the world’s Northern white rhino population to just eight individuals. In December 2009, four of these precious rhinos were famously relocated from a Czech Zoo to Kenya in hopes of stimulating breeding activity and saving the species from extinction.

Learn more about Ceratotherium cottoni

http://www.rhinoconservation.org/2010/05/05/new-study-indicates-the-northern-white-rhino-is-actually-a-sixth-rhino-species/

Today’s post is a snapshot of the full report. You can learn more about “The Sixth Rhino” by downloading The Sixth Rhino: A Taxonomic Re-Assessment of the Critically Endangered Northern White Rhinoceros from the Rhino Resource Center.

Photo:  Fauna Flora International

 

April 14, 2011 at 3:05 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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