ESCONDIDO, Calif., Nov. 22 (UPI) -- One of the world's last remaining northern white rhinos died Sunday in Southern California, officials said.
Nola, a 41-year-old northern white rhino at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, had been dealing with health issues for months before her condition severely worsened this weekend. Her team of caretakers decided to euthanize her Sunday morning.
"We're absolutely devastated by this loss, but resolved to fight even harder to #EndExtinction," the park said in a statement on its Facebook page. "We ask you to join us in that fight."
Nola's death leaves only three northern white rhinos remaining in the world. The other three, a male and two females, are under 24-hour guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
It has been a hard year for the sub-species as well as those trying to save them. In December, the park's other northern white rhino, a male named Angalifu, died of cancer at age 44. In July, Nabire, a female at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, died at age 32.
A gentle and sociable demeanor -- and a love for back scratches and hoove trimmings-- made the 4,000-pound Nola beloved among park staff during her 26 years there. She was something of a star to park visitors as well, known for a horn that curved in the opposite direction of typical rhino horn.
Nola was caught in the Sudan when she was about 2 years old and taken to the Dvur Kralove Zoo to be part of a breeding program. She was relocated to the park in San Diego to mate. When Nola arrived in 1989, there was Angalifu, as well as another female, Noti. Despite mating with Angalifu, Nola never got pregnant. Noti died in 2007.
"There is a depth to their lives that we don't understand." said Oliver Ryder, director of genetics at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, who first met Nola at a visit to the Dvur Kralove Zoo in 1986. The institute is working to save the sub-species with the conservancy in Kenya as well as the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in nearby La Jolla, Calif.
A medical watch began when Nola, considered elderly due to the typical 40-50-year life span of white rhinos, developed a sinus infection earlier this year. Then in May, she was being treated for an abscess on her right hip. She improved briefly, then the abscess and infection returned in September.
"It sounds corny, but with her, every day is a blessing," lead keeper Jane Kennedy told the San Diego Union-Tribune in October. "I would call her a symbol of our purpose. She truly represents what we are all dedicating our lives to."
It's then no surprise the park announced Nola's death with "profound sadness" Sunday. And added "let this be a warning of what is happening to wildlife everywhere. #RIP sweet girl. You will be deeply, dearly missed."