Health

White Rhino, Sudan, Last of His Kind Dies

Northern White Rhino, Sudan
By Sheep81 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The last male white rhino, Sudan, once voted “Most Eligible Bachelor in the Wold,” died on Monday, due to “age related complications.” Researchers announced the death of the giant white rhino saying he “stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength.”

The last hours of his life were spent in immense pain due to an infection in his right leg and the degeneration of his muscles and bones. Although heartbreaking to let the last male of a species pass on, after discovering that he was no longer able to stand his handlers made the difficult decision on Monday to euthanize the white rhino. Sudan, the 45 year old norther white rhino, lived at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. In human years, Sudan would have been 90.

Richard Vigne, CEO of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, said about Sudan:

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.

Will the Species Die Out?

The white rhino subspecies has been almost completely decimated by animal poachers. The poachers hunt the white rhino for trophies as well as to sell the white rhino horn in Asia, where it is used in China as a part of traditional medicine and in other areas as a status symbol in the home. The Rhino horns are also sold into Yemen where they are used as dagger handles. Additionally, rhinos has been hunted to sport. A white rhino horn sells for $50,000, so Sudan and other last white rhinos have been accompanied by guards 24/7. Bands of volunteer anti-animal poaching guards have also spread across Africa.

With the death of Sudan, many worry that the white rhino subspecies will die out. There are only two other remaining white rhinos in the world, both female. One is his daughter, Najin, and another, Sudan’s granddaughter, Fatu. However, conservationists had prepared for Sudan’s inevitable death and harvested his semen before he passed.

Semen has also been stored from other long dead white rhinos. Eggs will be extracted from the two surviving female rhinos. In vitro fertilization techniques will then be used in an attempt to save the species from complete extinction.

Most Eligible Bachelor

Last year, the dating app Tinder, listed Sudan as the “Most Eligible Bachelor in the World,” in an effort to raise money for the costly fertility treatments that could save the white rhino subspecies. His profile read, “I don’t mean to be too forward, but the fate of my species literally depends on me. I perform well under pressure. I like to eat grass and chill in the mud. No problems. 6 ft tall and 5,000 pounds if it matters.”

The fertilization was estimated to cost $9 million dollars and Tinder hoped the clever profile could help pay the bills. Efforts to get Sudan to mate naturally had been unsuccessful. Now the inverto treatments will carry one using the semen of Sudan and other white rhinos. If successful, the rhino embryo would be implanted in the more common southern white rhino.

Sundan’s Life

The last white rhino’s life began in Sudan, where he was born in 1973. He was then transferred to a Czech zoo before eventually being sent to Kenya in 2009 to mate with the remaining three fertile female white rhinos who were alive at the time, all under special 24/7 armed guard. Sudan was seen mating with the females, but a pregnancy never resulted.

The aging northern white rhino was beloved by rangers because of his gentle demeanor and quiet dignity. He also attracted thousands of visitors each year; his popularity helped the conservatory raise money.

The conservatory said in their statement, Sudan “significantly contributed to the survival of his species as he sired two females. Additionally, his genetic material was collected yesterday and provides a hope for future attempts at reproduction of northern white rhinos through advanced cellular technologies.”

The Last White Rhino?

The white rhino has long been hunted by poachers and perished due to violent armed conflicts across Africa, specifically in Uganda, Sudan, Congo, Chad, and Central African Republic. All rhinos, especially the black rhino and southern white rhino are in incredible danger because of poachers who can make big money selling their horns into the Asian market, although it is illegal to do so.

Although the northern white rhino species may be dying out, there are about 20,000 southern white rhinos today. This was not always the case though. Because of poaching, 100 years ago there were fewer than 100 southern white rhinos left in the world. Thanks to the efforts of conservationist Ian Player in the mid 20th century, the southern white rhino subspecies was saved. Conservationists hope the costly in vitro fertilization treatments will help to save the northern white rhino in the same way.

Today, Sudan’s death is emblematic of the struggle to save so many species from extinction due to human abuse. Jan Stejskal, director of international projects at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, said the death of the male last white rhino, Sudan:

is a cruel symbol of human disregard for nature and it saddened everyone who knew him. But we should not give up .We must take advantage of the unique situation in which cellular technologies are utilized for conservation of critically endangered species.It may sound unbelievable, but thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an offspring.

Today social media is flooded with images of the gentle giant roaming the grasslands and eating from the hands of his handlers and guards. The only upside to his tragic death might be that it will raise awareness for the dangers of animal poaching and dire straights of the subspecies of the white rhino. Sudan’s memory and even genes may be able to live on. If you’d like to donate to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to help protect the species you can find their website here.