Melwin Joy
AUTHOR

Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy
Last male Northern White Rhino dies in Kenya

The world’s last surviving male northern white rhino has died after months of poor health. Sudan, who was 45, lived at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He was put to sleep on 19 March after age-related complications worsened significantly.

Sudan’s death leaves only two females – his daughter and granddaughter – of the subspecies alive in the world. Hope for preserving the northern white rhino now lies in developing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques.

The elderly rhino was being treated for degenerative changes in his muscles and bones, combined with extensive skin wounds. Unable to stand up and suffering a great deal in his last 24 hours, Sudan was put down by veterinarians at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

“His death is a cruel symbol of human disregard for nature and it saddened everyone who knew him,” said Jan Stejskal, an official at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, where Sudan had lived until 2009. But we should not give up, he added.

“We must take advantage of the unique situation in which cellular technologies are utilised for conservation of critically endangered species. It may sound unbelievable, but thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an offspring.”

Rare species

Rhinoceroses – of which there are five species – are the second-largest land mammal after elephants. The white rhinoceros consists of two sub-species: the southern white rhino and the much rarer and critically endangered northern white rhino.

Sudan, who was the equivalent of 90 in human years, was the last surviving male of the rarer variety after the natural death of a second male in late 2014.

The subspecies’ population in Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan and Chad was largely wiped out during the poaching crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. Poaching was fuelled by demand for rhino horn for use in traditional Chinese medicine, and for dagger handles in Yemen.

The last few dozen wild northern white rhinos in the Democratic Republic of Congo had been killed by the early 2000s. By 2008, the northern white rhino was considered extinct in the wild, according to WWF, the global environment campaign.

Sustaining the rhinos

In 2009, the four remaining northern white rhinos, two males and two females, were transferred from the Czech zoo to Ol Pejeta in Kenya. The hope was that the new environment, reflecting their native habitat, would encourage breeding.

However, there were no successful pregnancies and Sudan was retired from his role as a potential mate four years ago. Other attempts to conserve some of the northern white rhino genes by mating 27-year-old Najin and her 17-year-old daughter Fatu with a southern white male also failed.

An account was created for Sudan on the dating app Tinder last year, not to find love, but to help fund the development of IVF for rhinos. The move won him fans across the world – fans who will now be mourning his death and the northern white rhino’s proximity to extinction.

Sudan’s genetic material was collected, conservationists said, to support future attempts to preserve the subspecies. The plan is to use stored sperm from several northern white rhino males, and eggs from the remaining younger females, and implant the embryo in a surrogate southern white rhino.

Rhino IVF is a radically new procedure and could cost as much as $10m (£7.1m). It still gives conservationists hope that Najin and Fatu will be able to have their own calves one day.

Melwin Joy
AUTHOR

Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy