In 1960, there were over 2,000 northern white rhinos roaming the Earth. In 1984, there were just 15. Today there are only five, including just one male, and he’s under around-the-clock armed surveillance to protect him from poachers.
The 42-year-old rhino, named Sudan, is guarded all day and night by a team of armed rangers at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya. The conservancy houses three of the last five remaining northern white rhinos, but Sudan, being the only male, must be defended in order to save the species from extinction.
Rhino poaching is on the rise across Africa. In South Africa alone, poachers killed 1,215 rhinos last year, an increase of over 20% from 2013. The rhino’s horn can sell for as much as $75,000 (£50,275) per kilogram (horns weigh roughly 1 to 4 kilograms) when they’re ground into dust and sold on the black market in China. And in Vietnam, a growing myth that ingesting the horn can cure cancer has made them worth over $100,000 (£67,000) per kg. In 2006, a single horn was worth only $760.
Ol Pejeta has preemptively cut off Sudan’s horn to make him less appealing to poachers. Although the horn, which is made of keratin (the same protein in human finger nails), will eventually grow back.
Sudan’s two female counterparts, Fatu and Najin, are also protected by guards at Ol Pejeta. The two other known females are in zoos in the Czech Republic and San Diego. Sudan became the only male left on Earth when a 44-year-old named Angalifu died of old age at the San Diego zoo last year.
Conservationists implanted the rhinos with radio transmitters and, according to CNN, send incognito rangers into nearby towns to gather intel on poachers.
The conservancy, which is normally funded by tourism, has raised over £43,000 ($64,000) in crowdfunding for the team of rangers. The conservancy says that misconceptions about Ebola have led to sharp declines in tourism to Kenya, even though the country has had no cases and is further from West Africa than many European countries.
Ol Pejeta is also home to 23 black rhinos, another species that is critically endangered.