This past March, the world’s last male northern white rhino died, throwing the subspecies closer to extinction. The Rhino, Sudan, lived in the Ol Pejeta Conservatory in Kenya along with his daughter and granddaughter – Najin and Fatu. His severely deteriorating health caused the veterinary team to euthanize him, alleviating any suffering he had from consistent infection at his age. Once news of his death hit, the world was alarmed. What was going on? Where had the rhinos gone?
In 2017, 1,028 rhinos were poached – which calculates to about 3 rhinos a day. Often poached for supposed medicinal remedies found in its ivory, the rhino’s horn is severed and the body left mutilated. In many African countries, poaching is a one way sentence to death or life in prison, yet rewards keep it coming. Often backed by larger criminal organizations, the horn goes for around $100,000/kg making it worth more than its weight in gold. Poaching in the wild is hard to manage, but it is also not uncommon for poachers to break into zoos or wildlife facilities for the sake of the rhino’s horn. Sudan was watched day and night by armed security at Ol Pejeta. In the past few years, poaching has gone down slightly, but it is still a huge problem and a constant threat.
So what’s next for the Northern White Rhino? Eggs! And sperm. And maybe some help from the Southern White Rhino – another subspecies that is doing far better. The first hope is to use some Sudan’s genetic material to inseminate one of the two females left. Since Fatu can’t conceive, Najin might be chosen to carry, or a Southern White Rhino female might do all the work by carrying both material from Sudan and an egg from Najin. If that doesn’t work, a Southern White Rhino will be inseminated. Though the two subspecies are not exactly the same, it would be better to have a part Northern White Rhino than none at all. Before Sudan's death, the conservancy had even gone so far as to create Sudan a tinder profile to attempt to raise funds to perform invitro fertilization to keep the species alive. His bio stating, " I don't mean to be too forward, but the fate of my species literally depends on me."
Much like those working on saving our rhinos, we are optimistic as well. A couple frozen eggs and some old genetic material could go a very long way these days. There is a lot of work to be done though. Interested? In? Rhinos? Donate to the World Wildlife Foundation or the African Wildlife Foundation.