Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, has died

Sudan was 45 years old and the last male northern white rhino when he died in a wildlife reserve in Kenya. The last hope for his species is in vitro fertilisation.

Sudan was the last specimen of male northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), one of the two subspecies of white rhinoceros in the world. Sudan’s death on the 19th of March 2018, was caused by an infection in his back and paw; he probably welcomed death as a liberation. The animal was living alongside two old females, Fatu and Najin, in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy reserve in Kenya, guarded 24 hours a day by two armed rangers. The images of the solitary animal wandering the fields surrounded by rangers are truly desolating as his species used to dominate the savannah in Uganda, Chad, Sudan, The Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Euthanasia for Sudan

In the beginning of March Ol Pejeta Conservancy announced that Sudan had contracted an infection to his hind right paw. Medication had little effect on the animal, who showed no signs of improving because of his old age, and on the 19th of March, after his conditions had worsened, the veterinaries at the reserve decided to put him to sleep forever. A tweet published by the Kenyan reserve states: “It is with great sadness that Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Dvůr Králové Zoo announce that Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, age 45, died at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on March 19th, 2018”.  

Chronicles of an extinction

In the course of less than half a century, the number of northern white rhinos has plummeted, from 2,000 specimens in 1960 to only seven in 2009. These pachyderms are the last of the ancient megafauna that used to roam the planet, animals that are now extinct because of the unstoppable and insatiable rise of the Homo Sapiens. The main causes for the disappearance of rhinos are poaching and habitat loss.

A small hope for rhinos

No males are left after Sudan’s death, only two females, Fatu and Najin, remain. The northern white rhino can be officially considered an extinct species. But there is still a glimmer of hope for these ancient giants: in vitro fertilisation. Samples of the animal’s sperm were stored in order to artificially inseminate the two remaining females. This is no easy task because of Fatu and Naji’s old age. Scientists have considered the possibility of using female southern white rhinos as surrogate mothers, or to cross breed northern females with a southern male.

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