GETTING READY TO FEEL THE EARTH MOVE UNDER MY FEET, ESCONDIDO — Years ago, there were three northern white rhinoceroses living here at the Safari Park: male Angalifu, and females Noti and Nola. Tragically, they made up nearly half the world's population of their species. Even more tragically, with Angalifu's death on December 14, only one of them — Nola — remains alive. (Noti died in 2007.)
In an desperate effort to stave off extinction for this noble beast, scientists at the Park are experimenting with any number of possible solutions, including cloning and the manipulation of Angalifu's frozen skin cells into sperm and eggs. But Connie Jugal, the Park's Director of Mammalian Mating, still holds out hope for getting a rhino baby the old-fashioned way. Well, mostly old-fashioned, anyway. She and her team are working on an audacious plan to bring Nola together with a potential mate. And to help things along, she's working on a specialized audio-visual production designed to get her charges in the mood for l'amour.
"There's only one male northern white rhino left in the world," explains Connie. "His name is Sudan, even though he lives in Kenya with two females, Najin and Fatu. His caretakers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy share our concern, and they also share our frustration when it comes to getting their rhinos to mate. Rhinos rely on herd behavior to spur mating, and three rhinos just isn't enough to trigger those herd instincts. It was the same here when Angalifu and Noti were still alive.
"We agreed to bring Nola over to Kenya to see if the addition of a stranger to the mix would help to spice things up — you know, just like fantasy threesomes in human relationships. Plus, there's the excitement of travel: what girl wouldn't like to be flown over the ocean just to meet a mysterious stranger? But we also knew we couldn't count on the effect of just one additional partner. Then it hit me: rhinos don't see very well; they have trouble discerning details at any sort of distance. What if we could make Sudan and his lady friends think they were part of a herd by employing a little movie magic? Thanks to a generous grant from an anonymous donor, we've been able to construct an IMAX-style domed theater at the Conservancy. And National Geographic has been extremely forthcoming with extensive footage of these majestic beasts copulating like there's no tomorrow. I choose that term carefully. If these rhinos don't copulate, there won't be a tomorrow for their kind. We're hoping that once these rhinos get inside the theater and find themselves surrounded by wall-to-wall 'rhino porn,' they'll be tricked into thinking its sexytime — you know, just like regular porn tricks the human brain."
The project is expected to cost upward of $5 million all told, which would make it the biggest-budget pornographic film in history — and also maybe the weirdest. ("I do kind of wonder about those National Geographic photographers," admits Jugal.)
It's a big risk, but happily, there is some precedent: zoologists in Thailand claim to have stimulated giant panda mating under zoo conditions through the use of filmed "panda porn." "They got something like 30 cubs in 10 months!" exclaims Jugal. "If Sudan and Nola are half as excited as I am, they're gonna make it!"