Kenya’s last male northern white rhino dies
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, died in Kenya at the age of 45, and now only scientific advances can ensure the perpetuation of this poaching-decimated subspecies.
When Sudan was born in 1973 in Shambe National Park in South Sudan, there were still 700 northern white rhinos on the planet. When he dies, only two females remain alive, both unable to reproduce.
Sudan, recognizable by his imposing stature and rounded horn, was an old man in terms of rhinoceros life expectancy. In recent months, his state of health had deteriorated.
Sudan est mort hier. C'était le dernier rhinocéros blanc mâle du Nord. La survie de cette sous-espèce est désormais entre les mains de scientifiques… pic.twitter.com/Ce66aUx7YO
— Brut nature FR (@brutnaturefr) March 20, 2018
“His state of health has deteriorated significantly in the past 24 hours; he was no longer able to stand up and was in great pain. The veterinary team made the decision to euthanize him,” said the Kenyan reserve of Ol Pejeta (center), where Sudan lived.
It is in this reserve of 350 km² located some 200 km north of Nairobi that Sudan lived his last years, under guard, and in the company of the last two females of the species.
Ironically, his passing comes as hundreds of experts from around the world gather in Medellin, Colombia to assess ways to combat the mass extinction of species on the planet.
Wildlife ranger Joseph comforts Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, as he passes away. He lived a healthy life and died of old age yesterday. He leaves 2 female family members who may be able to help revive the species in the future via IVF. Photo: Ami Vitale for @NatGeo pic.twitter.com/4LMSFYsuwF
— Bridget McGann, student of science (@bridgetmcgann) March 20, 2018
“We at Ol Pejeta are all very sad at the death of Sudan. He was a remarkable ambassador of his kind and will be remembered for his role in raising global awareness of the scourge that hangs over not only on rhinos but also on thousands of other species threatened with extinction due to human activities “, reacted the director of Ol Pejeta, Richard Vigne.
Decimated by poaching
For Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhinoceros Foundation, “we must never forget the tragic lessons of what led to this slow demise.”
In their natural environment, rhinos have few predators, due to their size and thick skin.
But alleged medicinal virtues attributed in Asia to their horns fueled in the 70s and 80s a relentless poaching which largely decimated the species. A kilogram of rhino horn sells for several tens of thousands of dollars on the black market in China and Vietnam.
The traditional territories of the northern white rhinoceros – Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), present-day South Sudan – have long been in the grip of conflict and therefore conducive to criminal activity, including poaching.
— Erin (@erinruberry) March 20, 2018
The last wild population of the subspecies comprised between 20 and 30 individuals in the DRC and it disappeared in the fighting in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2008, the northern white rhino was already considered extinct. wild.
In the 1970s, Sudan and five other individuals of this subspecies (“Ceratotherium simum cottoni”) were captured in South Sudan and transferred to the Czech zoo in Dvur Kralove. This zoo, located in the center of the Czech Republic, is the only place in the world where it has successfully bred in captivity.
Then in 2009, Sudan and three other rhinos of its species, including his daughter Najin, his granddaughter Fatu and another male, were transferred to Ol Pejeta, in the hope that conditions closer to their natural habitat would favor their reproduction. . In vain, despite several matings noted by the veterinary team.
In vitro fertilization
While Sudan’s death marks the disappearance of white rhinos in central Africa, there are still some 20,000 southern white rhinos in eastern and southern Africa, according to a 2016 estimate from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Suni, the penultimate surviving male northern white rhino, died in 2014 of natural causes and attempts to mate Najin and Fatu with males of another subspecies, the southern white rhino. , have failed.
— Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) March 20, 2018
The chances of perpetuation of the species now rest on the work of scientists who have taken genetic material from Sudan and other northern white rhinos and are trying to develop in vitro fertilization techniques.
The idea is to fertilize the eggs taken from Najin and Fatu with sperm from several northern white males, stored in Berlin, and to implant the embryos, which will be designed in an Italian laboratory, in the uterus of female white rhinos. from South.
Even if successful, the natural habitat of the northern white rhino is currently too dangerous to be relocated. But for Samuel Mutisya, director of conservation programs at Ol Pejeta, hope remains.
And to question: “It will take many years to rebuild a substantial population of northern white rhinos, and who knows what the Central African Republic will be like in 10 years?”
Four questions about the death of Sudan, the last of the northern white rhinos.
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, died in Kenya at the age of 45 on Monday March 19. There are now only two females alive: Najin and Fatu, his daughter and his granddaughter. And they are not able to handle a pregnancy.
He was the last of the northern white rhino males. Sudan passed away in Kenya at the age of 45 on Monday March 19. There are now only two females alive: his daughter Najin and his granddaughter Fatu. But the chances of being able to recreate this subspecies by appealing to scientific prowess remain very low.
What was Sudan suffering from?
Since the beginning of March, his carers were particularly worried. Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, had long suffered from age-related health complications. 45 years is an advanced age for a species whose life expectancy is limited to around 40 years.
By the end of 2017, his caregivers were already concerned about his health. They had managed to stop an infection in the right hind leg with antibiotics. Because of his old age, any infection was a risk. So, when he suffered from an infection in that same paw again in early March, his caregivers had little hope. “He was no longer able to stand up and was in great pain. The veterinary team has made the decision to euthanize him, “Kenya’s Ol Pejeta reserve said in a statement released Tuesday, March 20.
Why was he so infamous?
Sudan was voted “Single of the Year 2017” by the dating app Tinder. This partnership with Ol Pejeta Conservancy raised € 70,000. “Sudan has a problem with his hind leg. His joints are fragile and he can no longer ride a female ”, explained one of his caretakers.
A few months later, it was Daniel Schneider, an American biologist, who decided to alert public opinion in a message published on November 6, 2017, on Twitter, accompanied by a photograph of Sudan: “You want to know what looks like an extinction? Here is the last male northern white rhino. The last. For ever. The goal: get people to participate in a fundraising campaign to help research. The idea: to develop a reliable in vitro fertilization technique.
“He was a great ambassador of his species and he will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness around the world about the plight of rhinos, but also thousands of other species threatened with extinction by human activity. not durable. One day his demise will hopefully be seen as a watershed moment for conservationists around the world, ”said Richard Vigne, head of the reserve.
Is science the last hope?
Sudan’s death is synonymous with the extinction of its subspecies. Unless the scientists who collected his genetic material manage to develop in vitro fertilization techniques in order to conceive “test-tube rhino babies”. Whatever happens, they will have to call on a surrogate mother of another subspecies: the southern white rhino. Najin and Fatu, respectively Sudan’s daughter and granddaughter, could not bear a pregnancy. The older one could not support the weight of a pregnancy due to weakness in her legs, and the second one does not have a suitable uterus.
If this technique proves ineffective, researchers are also considering the use of stem cells. Only, the new subspecies then created would be different. Some researchers believe that it would be wiser to use this money to try this type of experiment on other rhino species, also threatened with extinction.
Why did Sudan no longer have a horn?
The alleged medicinal virtues attributed to its horn in Asia, and more particularly in China and Vietnam, got the better of the species. To protect Sudan from poaching, reserve officials cut off its horn. The kilo sells for between 40,000 and 50,000 €.
The officials of the reserve had therefore decided to withdraw this much coveted horn to preserve it, while assigning armed guards to protect it.
The last wild population of the subspecies comprised between twenty and thirty individuals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It disappeared in fighting in the late 1990s and early 2000s. By 2008, the northern white rhino was already considered extinct in the wild.