Sudan, a 45-year-old northern white rhino who was the last chance for his subspecies’ survival, died recently at a Kenyan reserve. He was surrounded by individuals who had been looking after him for more than a decade.
Sudan was named for the nation where he was born in the wild, but he was brought to the Dvr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic when he was young, where he spent the most of his life. Sudan was relocated to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2009, where he resided alongside two younger female rhinos, Fatu and Najin, in the hopes of encouraging the animals to procreate and rescuing the subspecies from extinction.
Sudan, the last male of his kind, was guarded 24 hours a day by armed guards desperate to keep him safe from poachers. To prevent poachers from injuring him, his horn was also removed.
However, the elderly Sudan and his possible mates were unable to reproduce. People at Ol Pejeta attempted to find a different solution, realizing that they were in a race against time.
On December 5, as Sudan’s health began to deteriorate, the conservancy reported, “Preparations have begun in Kenya and Europe for the long-anticipated treatment that is intended to help preserve the northern white rhinos from extinction.”
“With only three aged northern white rhinos remaining, this subspecies is on the verge of extinction unless fresh representative progeny are born.”
For the past two years, experts from Dvr Králové Zoo, IZW Berlin, and the Avantea Institute in Cremona, Italy, have been working on a strategy to preserve northern white rhinos from extinction, even if Sudan died. They want to utilize a southern white rhino surrogate to carry a northern white rhino embryo developed through IVF.
For this reason, sperm from now-deceased northern white rhino males has been preserved in Berlin, Germany. Northern white rhino eggs will be retrieved and fertilized in the lab from Najin and Fatu, who are 28 and 17 years old, respectively.
“The survival of the northern white rhino subspecies is dependent on the success of this operation,” Ol Pejeta stated.
This new rhino conservation method has never been attempted before, and the extent to which individuals are willing to go to rescue this subspecies is a reassuring silver lining to the terrible reality of declining rhino populations.
All rhinoceros subspecies are threatened by black market demand for their horn; keratin from this source is extremely valuable due to an inaccurate notion in Asia that it can heal anything from hangovers to cancer (even though keratin is the same substance as your fingernails).
Where formerly millions of rhinos roamed Africa and Asia, just approximately 30,000 rhinos are thought to exist across all five species.