White rhinoceroses suffer from a low reproductive rate in captivity. Intensive efforts to propagate specifically the northern white rhinoceros have been very limited. The dismal outlook for this subspecies in the wild makes successful ex situ breeding programs paramount. In this context, this study examined 48 southern and 6 northern white rhinoceroses using ultrasound and faecal hormone analysis to elucidate causes for female reproductive failure and to determine whether long non-reproductive periods have a detrimental impact on genital health. Results showed that 76% of the nulliparous females had intact hymenal membrane indicating these females had never been bred, at an age when their wild counterparts have delivered multiple offspring. Fifty-six percent of the studied population had various reproductive pathology. Cystic endometrial hyperplasia; leiomyomas of the cervix, uterus and ovary, adenoma; para-ovarian cysts and hydromucometra represent the scope of lesions identified. The stages of the lesions in nulliparous females correlated with age (r = 0.4, P < 0.05). Due to the severity of the lesions, 28% of the study population was considered post-reproductive. Therefore, the reproductive life span in some individuals was 10-20 years shorter than expected. However, in parous females the incidence of pathological lesions was significantly lower (P < 0.0001). Seventy-eight percent females studied had erratic or absent luteal activity. The hormone data corresponded with two ultrasonographic levels of ovarian activity, active and inactive, occurring within an age range of 3-19 years and 15-38 years, respectively. This suggests the lack of ovarian activity by reproductive mid-life in non-reproducing females. The accuracy of the ultrasound findings was validated by necropsy in nine animals showing a strong positive correlation (r2 = 0.9, p < 0.001). Our data suggests that the development of reproductive pathology and ovarian inactivity in white rhinoceros is an age-related consequence of long non-reproductive periods. This asymmetric ageing process of the genital organs can be prevented with the achievement of at least one pregnancy.