The world’s last male northern white rhino has died, putting his species on the brink of extinction, and there’s very little we can do about it. We must now resort to technology to help this species survive.
The last male northern white rhino has died in Kenya at 45 years of age-related complications, his guardians announced, leaving only two females — his daughter, Najin, and granddaughter, Fatu — as the sole survivors of this subspecies.
Experts say that the last hope against extinction is in-vitro fertilization from preserved sperm.
The rhino, called Sudan, had long suffered health complications due to his advanced age and when his condition worsened considerably, “the veterinary team made the decision to euthanize him,” the Ol Pejeta natural reserve said in a statement.
His muscles and bones had degenerated and his skin had large wounds, including a deep infection on his right hind leg, so he was no longer able to stand up, they added.
“We at Ol Pejeta are all saddened by Sudan’s death. He was an amazing rhino, a great ambassador for his species, and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity,” Ol Pejeta Conservancy chief executive Richard Vigne said in a statement.
“One day, his demise will hopefully be seen as a seminal moment for conservationists worldwide.”
Sudan was part of an ambitious project to prevent the extinction of the subspecies after decades of illegal hunting, with the help of two females that are still alive.
One is his daughter, Najin, and granddaughter, Fatu.
Sudan was a kind of celebrity that attracted hundreds of visitors.
During a fundraising campaign last year, the mobile dating application Tinder named him the “most coveted bachelor in the world.”
Born in Sudan, the country from which he took his name, he was the last specimen of the northern white rhinoceros born in freedom.
The population of northern white rhinos was severely decimated in Uganda, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Chad due to the extensive illegal hunting in the 1970s and 1980s, encouraged by the demand for rhinoceros horns for traditional Chinese medicine in Asia and for dagger handles in Yemen.
Ten years ago, in 2008, the northern white rhinoceros was considered extinct in the wild.
Four fertile Rhinos, two males, and two females were transferred from the Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic to the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya in the hope that conditions similar to those of their natural habitat would allow them to give birth.
However, and despite being seen mating, there was no fruitful gestation.
“Sudan was the last northern white rhino that was born in the wild. His death is a cruel symbol of human disregard for nature and it saddened everyone who knew him,” Jan Stejskal, director of international projects at the Dvur Králové Zoo, told Agence France-Presse.
“But we should not give up. We must take advantage of the unique situation in which cellular technologies are utilized for conservation of critically endangered species. It may sound unbelievable, but thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an offspring.”
Image Credit: Ami Vitale.
Ami Vitale is a National Geographic photographer based in Montana. You can also follow her work on Instagram.