Animals dying peacefully of old age is rarely newsworthy, but the death of Nola the northern white rhino at the San Diego Zoo on Sunday made international headlines. Nola was one of only four northern white rhinos left on Earth; her death is a real-time window on extinction.
In fact, that extinction has been happening for a long time. Starting in the early 20th century, poachers in search of rhino horns hunted the species from the thousands to the hundreds to, by the 2000s, the tens. The last sighting of a wild northern white rhino in Africa was in 2006.
Nola died on Sunday morning, when a lingering infection caught up with her. “Nola’s condition worsened and we made the difficult decision to euthanize her,” said the San Diego Zoo in a statement. “We’re absolutely devastated by this loss.” And now there are three—all too old or ill to reproduce, all under armed guard at a Kenyan conservancy.