The world’s last male northern white rhinoceros called Sudan, died on Monday at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy (OPC) located in Kenya. Since he’s the last known male of his species, his death doomed the species to extinction. The only two surviving members of the species known to humanity are his daughter and granddaughter Najin and Fatu.
The animal died because it suffered with health problems related to its age. The health issues resulted in skin wounds on Sudan but also contributed to degeneration of his bones and muscles. The last 24 hours of his life were a huge struggle. He was suffering to the point where he couldn’t stand, as the infection covered his right hind leg. The veterinary team in charge of the white rhinoceros decided that it’d be best to euthanize him to end his suffering.
Experts are still not quite sure whether Sudan belonged to a distinct species or to a subspecies of the white rhinoceros. Still, the Ceratotherium simum cottoni, the name of the species, are believed to have gone extinct in the wilderness over 10 years ago. However, the species is still listed as critically endangered and also possibly extinct in the world by International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, after the entry was updated in 2011.
Sudan was also a poster-boy by OPC at the time of a fund-raising campaign from last year. During that campaign Sudan was called “the most eligible bachelor in the world.” Given that Sudan was quite old, it was impossible for him to mate with either of the two females. Even if breeding was successful, experts were concerned about how strong the species would be due to inbreeding. They were also concerned that inbreeding would narrow the gene pool.
Experts collected genetic material from Sudan before he died. Scientists are hopeful that the development of medicine would allow them to use the material to give birth to more white rhinos. They could use techniques with the help of individuals from closely related species.
The world’s last male northern white rhinoceros was caught in the wild when he was 3 years old. Since then he has spent most of his life in the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. In that zoo, the remaining female rhinos are also located. The three animals, and one more that died in 2014, were moved to OPC in 2009 to participate in the breeding program, hoping that the natural environment would support the animals to mate.
“We on Ol Pejeta are all saddened by Sudan’s death. He was a great ambassador for his species and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity. One day, his demise will hopefully be seen as a seminal moment for conservationists world-wide,” Richard Vigne, CEO of the conservancy, said reacting to Sudan’s death via Twitter.