Last male white rhino passes away
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, passed away last month. After a decline in health, the 45-year-old (considered elderly in rhino years) was euthanized by a veterinary team. He suffered from age-related issues as well as multiple infections.
He leaves behind a daughter, Najia (28 years old), and a granddaughter, Fatu, the only northern white rhinos left in existence. Until his death, Sudan lived in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, surrounded by armed guards used as protection from poachers. Sudan became the international symbol for anti-poaching and the wildlife conservation movement.
“He was a gentle giant, his personality was just amazing and given his size, a lot of people were afraid of him. But there was nothing mean about him” says Elodie Sampere, a representative at Ol Pejeta.
Many people in Asia believe that rhino horns can be used as medicine and may cure ailments. Poaching for these horns threatens all species of rhino, and experts claim that rhino horns are becoming more lucrative than drugs. In fact, many conservancies in Africa place radio transmitters on their animals, as well as send incognito rangers out to neighboring communities to collect intelligence on poaching.
More than 1,000 rhinos were poached in 2017 that is nearly three rhinos a day. And it is not just poaching that has contributed to the northern white rhinos’ demise, war and habitat loss have had their share of destruction.
Zacharia Mutai, a northern white rhino keeper says that it is “so sad, because we end up losing such kinds of species because of human failure. People used to kill rhinos because of their horns, and many people have been believing that they’re used as medicine, but it doesn’t cure anyone at all.”
The northern white rhino is a subspecies of southern white rhino. In general, what differentiates them from their southern counterparts are hairier ears, differing dental structures, and a smaller body size. Some researchers even say that the northern white rhino should be considered its own species. There were over 1,000,000 black and white rhinos roaming the grasslands of eastern and central Africa 150 years ago. By 1960, there were only 2,000 left in the wild. And by 2008, researchers could no longer locate any northern white rhinos in the wild; they could only be found in zoos around the world.
“We can only hope that the world learns from the sad loss of Sudan and takes every measure to end all trade in rhino horn. While prices of rhino horn are falling in China and Vietnam, poaching for horn still threatens all rhino spe- cies” says Wild Aid CEO, Peter Knights.
Last year, the dating app Tinder named Sudan the “most eligible bachelor in the world” in a campaign to raise funds to save the subspecies. Due to his age, Sudan was not naturally able to mount a female, and he also had a low sperm count. His daughter Najia can conceive, however, because of weak legs may not be able to support a mounted male. Thus, researchers have saved some of Sudan’s genetic material in hopes that they could artificially inseminate one of the two females left. They plan to use classic reproduction techniques as well as new stem cell technology.
Conservationists have banked Sudan’s sperm, and since neither Sudan’s daughter nor granddaughter can carry
a pregnancy to term, they will extract their eggs and fertilize them in vitro with Sudan’s sperm and implant the embryos in surrogate southern white rhino females.
However, given that there is a very low genetic diversity be- tween Sudan and his offspring, researchers plan to use frozen cell cultures from several other northern white rhino males, stored at the San Diego Zoo. Some conservationists think it may be too late to save the species, given that researchers say some technical advances may take upwards of 15 years to develop. Others are more optimistic and hope to save other species of rhino before they too go extinct.
No matter how one looks at the situation, as Thomas Hildebrandt, head of reproduction management Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin says, “this is a creature that didn’t fail in evolution. It’s in this situation because of us.”
Eric Guditz, a first-year, is un- decided. He is a staff writer for Le Provocateur.