World’s last male white rhino dies

Sudan the white rhino in a field [Credit: Glyn Edmunds]

The last male white rhino in the world had to be euthanized yesterday, making two females the only remaining members of the species.

The rhino, named Sudan, lived at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy and was suffering from several age-related conditions. He had recently developed an infection on his leg, and when his health took a turn for the worse, wildlife officials determined that he had to be put down. White rhinos tend to live between 40 and 50 years, and Sudan was 45.

“Today, we are witnessing the extinction of a species that had survived for millions of years but could not survive mankind,” wrote National Geographic in an Instagram post. White rhinos were hunted to the brink of extinction for their horns, which are used in traditional medicine (though it has no proven health benefits). Sudan had to be placed under 24-hour guard to protect him from poachers.

“It’s very sad to lose Sudan because it shows clearly the extent of human greed and what sort of impact humans beings can have on nature,” Samuel Mutisya, head of wildlife conservation at the conservancy, told Reuters.

The two remaining rhinos are Sudan’s daughter and granddaughter. While this means the extinction of this subspecies of rhino is almost certain, but there does remain one hope for their continued existence: in vitro fertilization (IVF). Scientists are going to attempt to inseminate the females with sperm that was stored from males who have since died.

The odds of success using IVF are extremely low. In the last 15 years, only two embryos were successfully created using artificial insemination, and neither grew to term. “The only hope for the preservation of this subspecies now lies in developing in vitro fertilization techniques using eggs from the two remaining females, stored northern white rhino semen from males and surrogate southern white rhino females,” Ol Pejeta said.

great plains bison in a field
In the 1800s, Great Plains bison in North America were hunted nearly to extinction. [Credit: Jack Dykinga]

Last year, conservationists put Sudan on Tinder (his profile listed him as “the most eligible bachelor in the world”) to raise money for fertility treatment for him, and his sperm has been collected for attempted IVF if necessary.

For Mutisya, Sudan’s death isn’t just a tragedy for white rhinos, but a hard lesson about how we need to do better protecting endangered species. In Canada, historically, bison were hunted so extensively that their numbers went from about 30 million on the Great Plains in 1800 to a few thousand in 1850. There are now 500,000 bison in all of North America. Similarly, southern resident orcas are have reached critical endangerment, with just 76 remaining. This year, for the first time, the Canadian government has dedicated funds for research into their preservation.

Mutisya hopes that everyone will learn from the death of Sudan and the likely extinction of the white rhino.

“If we don’t take care of what we have, we will definitely continue to lose it, particularly lose other species that are currently endangered.”

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