The world’s last male northern white rhino is dying.
The death of Sudan would mean that only two females of his subspecies would survive, and all hopes will be pinned on the researchers attempting to use IVF to stop the northern white rhino from going extinct altogether.
At the end of 2017 the elderly 45-year-old rhino, who lives with the two females at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, developed an infection in his back right leg. After receiving the best veterinary treatment that any animal could he responded well and recovered quickly, returning to his old habits of munching grass and foraging. Unfortunately, the infection seems to have returned.
“Recently, a secondary and much deeper infection was discovered beneath the initial one,” explained the Ol Pejeta, in a statement. “This has been treated, but worryingly, the infection is taking longer to recover, despite the best efforts of his team of vets who are giving him 24-hour care, with everything possible being done to help him regain his health.”
There is the very real concern that, because of his old age, this infection might kill him. If that happens, then the subspecies will slip ever closer to extinction.
The three remaining rhino that live at the conservancy were moved there from a zoo in the Czech Republic in a bid to encourage them to breed and save the subspecies. But the age of the last remaining rhinos has confounded the matter, and despite the team’s best attempts, no calves have been born.
After having collected egg and sperm cells from the last survivors, researchers are now desperately trying to figure out how to use IVF to save the animals, implanting fertilized eggs into young southern white rhinos as surrogate mothers. But while we can readily do this with humans, no rhino has ever been born through IVF before, raising the stakes dramatically.
When Sudan was captured from the wilds of Shambe National Park in what is now South Sudan in 1973, there were thought to be at least 500 northern white rhino in the wild, with probably more surviving in remote pockets across Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Over the course of Sudan’s life, poaching took a heavy toll and the subspecies dwindled. The last known wild northern white rhinos living in Garamba National Park, DRC, were last seen in 2006, leaving just a handful of captive individuals representing the entire subspecies. Now just three remain, all of which are under 24-hour armed surveillance.
Only time will tell whether Sudan recovers from this last bout, but things are not looking good.
“We are very concerned about him - he's extremely old for a rhino and we do not want him to suffer unnecessarily,” write Ol Pejeta. “We will keep you updated on all developments. Please keep him in your thoughts.”