The last male northern white rhino has died

Sudan was put down after months of age-related health issues

Ol Pejeta Conservancy announced this morning that they made the decision to put down the 45-year old Sudan yesterday after his condition deteriorated and he was left unable to walk. Sudan reached a good age for a rhino, but his advanced years left him suffering from muscle, skin and bone problems and infections. Towards the end of his life, Sudan was protected at all hours by armed guards, and his horn was removed to deter poachers. He adopted the title of last surviving male after fellow male Angalifu died in 2014, and his loss means that there are now only two members of the subspecies left – his daughter, Najin, and granddaughter, Fatu.

 

 

Sudan was born in South Sudan in 1973 or 1974, and was taken from the wild two or three years later. Along with several other northern white rhinos, the young Sudan was taken to the Dvůr Králové Zoo in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. Shortly after his capture, poaching escalated in Central Africa, reducing the wild population to just a few dozen in the Democratic Republic of Congo. War in the country in the 1990s meant that conservation was far from a priority, and rhino horns were reportedly taken and sold to fund the fighting. The last wild northern white rhinos were seen in 2006, and the subspecies was declared extinct in the wild in 2008.

 

A year later, four of the last six northern white rhinos were moved from the Czech zoo to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, in the hope that being in their native habitat would encourage them to breed. Unfortunately, no offspring were produced – it’s possible that Sudan was already too old to mate when he was transferred to Africa, and Najin and Fatu failed to mate with Suni, the other male. Sperm was collected from Angalifu, who lived at San Diego Zoo Safari Park with an elderly female called Nola, and sent to Ol Pejeta for artificial insemination, but this also failed. A Tinder account was set up for Sudan in 2017 to promote the problems facing the subspecies and to raise funds for the development of expensive in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.

 

 

Genetic material was taken from Sudan yesterday in the hopes that it can be used to preserve the species in the future. IVF now offers the only hope of restoring the northern white rhino population; eggs from the remaining females could be fertilised using stored sperm collected from several males and implanted into female southern white rhino surrogates. The southern white rhino subspecies was reduced to 20 individuals by the start of the 20th century, but slowly recovered – the subspecies is now the most common and widespread of all the rhinos, with an estimated population of 20,000. With plenty of healthy young southern white females to carry their calves, there’s still a chance that Najin and Fatu could produce offspring.

 

Sudan was famous and loved across the world, and his death is a great loss. The decline of the northern white rhino is an upsetting example of the devastating impact human activity can have on other species, and a stark reminder that conserving wildlife is crucial if we want to maintain the diversity and beauty of the natural world.

 

Feature image: Make It Kenya/flickr