Extinction Notice: A Mourning Cry For a Horny Guy

On the 19th of March, in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, the last male northern white rhinoceros on the planet, Sudan, went to the great savannah in the sky. The equivalent of 90 years old in human years, Sudan was suffering from degenerative muscle and bone complications related to his long-life, and had extensive skin wounds that left him unable to stand. As his condition worsened over the last 24 hours, he was humanely put to sleep by the team of dedicated vets looking after him.

Sudan escaped the extinction of northern white rhinos in the 1970s by moving to Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. While there he contributed greatly to his species’ survival by siring two females. In his final years he was retired from the breeding programme and returned to Kenya, where he lived out his days as an ambassador and inspiration. Last year, a Tinder profile was created for Sudan in order to raise awareness and funds for developing an IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatment for rhinos. With his death the future for the northern white rhino will have to lie in IVF technology, as attempts to breed either of the two remaining specimens, Sudan’s daughter (Najin) and granddaughter (Fatu), with southern white rhino males have not been successful.

Thanks to the poaching crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, and demand for rhino horn for use in traditional Chinese ‘medicine’ and dagger handles, we are living in the last days of a subspecies which used to roam widely across central Africa. The southern white rhino is near threatened, and the 4 other species of rhino are critically endangered or vulnerable.

Sudan’s contribution to his species will continue on into the future, as his genetic material was collected yesterday and will be added to stored eggs and semen from other specimens, and could aid in a successful surrogacy with a southern white rhino female. He will be remembered by his keepers, caretakers and fans, as a gentle giant, a 45 year-old heart stealer, and a even-larger that his already large life personality.


Aisling Brennan – Science Writer

 

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