Sudan is now the only male northern white rhino left on the planet. He lives in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, and he’s guarded 24 hours a day by armed rangers, the last line of defense between him and poaching gangs.
Back in 2009, Sudan and three others -- Najin, Fatu, and Suni -- arrived in Ol Pejeta from Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. The hope was that the sanctuary, with its more natural environment and populations of other rhino species, would provide favorable breeding conditions to bring the magnificent creatures back from the brink of extinction.
Though their range is much smaller than their southern counterparts, the northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum ssp. cottoni) once lived in parts of Uganda, Chad, Sudan, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But with habitat destruction and impressive horns valued for dagger handles and aphrodisiacs, their numbers dwindled down dramatically from 2,000 in 1960 to just seven by 2009. “The black market price for rhino horn is now in excess of that for gold,” according to the conservancy’s Richard Vigne. “In fact, I think the price is nearing the black market price for cocaine.”
Sudan’s horn has already been removed to reduce the incentive for poachers.
Last October, the world lost 34-year-old Suni, to natural causes most likely. His father died when he was around the same age. Then in December, a 44-year-old male named Angalifu died of old age at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. By the end of last year, the world had only five left: three in Kenya, one in San Diego, and another in the Czech Republic. San Diego’s Nola is currently receiving antibiotics after a basketball-sized abscess on her right hip was lanced.
Sadly, attempts to mate both Angalifu and Suni with females naturally failed, and at 44, Sudan is getting old. Biologists think in vitro fertilization might be the only way to keep the species alive. Sperm has been saved and frozen, and female southern white rhinos may serve as surrogate mothers if any embryos become viable.
— Ol Pejeta (@OlPejeta) February 9, 2015
Image: Ol Petjeta Conservancy northern white rhino photo gallery