Once dubbed the “most eligible bachelor” in the world, Sudan, the last male northern white rhino left standing, died that day.
There are only two remaining northern white rhinos in the world - both female, and living in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Unless a “make a rhino” surrogacy project becomes a reality, the days of the northern white rhino’s existence are over.
The only hope for the preservation of this subspecies now lies in developing invitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques using eggs from the remaining females, stored northern white rhino semen from males and surrogate southern white rhino females, said an Ol Pejeta spokesperson Jerry Sellenga.
But developing “artificial reproductive techniques” (ARTs) is a new and costly scientific terrain, estimated in the region of $9 million.
Sellenga said northern white rhino ranged over Uganda, Chad, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Years of widespread poaching and civil war devastated the rhino populations, ultimately leading to their extinction in the wild, he said.
Sellenga said Sudan and five other northern white rhinos escaped the slaughter when they were captured and moved to the Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic.
But breeding attempts proved futile, and in 2009, the last four fertile northern white rhinos - two males (Sudan and Suni) and two females (Fatu and Najin) were returned to Africa in the hope that the climate and rich grasslands of Ol Pejeta, a native habitat, would provide them with more favourable breeding
Ol Pejeta’s website details Sudan’s unusual life since then and his journey to becoming the world’s “most eligible bachelor”. On arrival at Ol Pejeta, the four were placed under 24 hour armed surveillance, and fed a supplemented diet. However, despite the fact that they were seen mating, there were no successful pregnancies.
In early 2014, plans to introduce a male southern white rhino to Fatu and Najin got under way in the hopes that if breeding were successful, the hybrid offspring would at least conserve some of the northern white genes. Again, this proved unsuccessful. Tests later revealed that neither of the females was capable of natural reproduction, and that only one was fertile enough to conceive artificially.
But his days of youthful vigour were clearly behind him, prompting research into possible technological interventions. Sudan, way beyond his prime at 45 years old (equivalent to 90 human years) began ailing. Over the past few weeks his condition worsened, reaching the stage where he was unable to stand. This led to a decision to euthanase him.
Although his death has brought the northern white rhino to the brink extinction, Ol Pejeta’s chief executive, Richard Vigny, said it served as a catalyst for scientists to come up with technological innovations that could save the species. A GoFundMe campaign called Make a Rhino has been set up. Visit http://donate.olpejetaconservancy.org/projects/sudan
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