The death of the last male northern white rhino leaves scientists scrambling to save endangered species

The last of his kind.
The last of his kind.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya
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The last male northern white rhino has died.

Sudan died at the age of 45 in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy zoo in Kenya on March 19. The rhino suffered a series of infections and age-related health issues. As his condition deteriorated, vets were forced to euthanize him to end his suffering.

The rhino was an ambassador for his species and became something of anti-poaching figure. To raise awareness of the dangers of rhino-horn trafficking in places like China and Vietnam, Sudan posed with celebrities like NBA star Yao Ming and Vietnamese actor and TV presenter Phan Anh.

The last male northern white rhino has died.
Yao Ming and Sudan raising awareness.
Image: Wild Aid/Kristen Schmidt (Supplied)

Sudan even joined Tinder last year, as the zoo tried to raise awareness about his threatened species and raise money for reproductive research. Sudan’s loss leaves just two female white rhinos left on the planet: his daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu. The other male northern white rhino, Suni, died of natural causes in 2014.

Sudan’s death prompts a desperate need to develop “artificial reproductive techniques” for the animals, said a statement by NGO WildAid. Both females are unable to conceive naturally, and only one is viable for in vitro fertilization (IVF). For the first time, researchers plan to harvest the females’ viable eggs and fertilize them with the semen of now deceased northern white male rhinos, using a southern white rhino as a surrogate. Acknowledging the risks, researchers believe this is the only option left, after pairing the females with a male southern white rhino failed. “The estimated cost of IVF—from the development of the method, to trials, implantation and the creation of a viable breeding herd of northern whites—could be as much as US$9 million,” WildAid said.

The last four northern white rhinos came to Kenya in 2009 from the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. In Africa, their species was wiped out by poaching that spiked in the 1970s and carries on today.

Native to the grasslands around Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan, Chad, and northeastern DRC, the square-lipped northern white rhino nearly went extinct in the 1990s. The last 20 that remained in the Garamba national Park in the DRC were killed in the war that gripped the country until the early 2000s. The southern white rhino, found in southern Africa, was on the brink of extinction but has recovered, with the current herd numbering around 21,000.

Poaching has ravaged all five rhino species. The smaller black rhino remains critically endangered, with about 5,000 left. Asian species of rhino have suffered even more, with 3,500 Indian one-horned rhinos left in Nepal and India, fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos (known for their long hair), and only about 60 Javan rhinos left in the world.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated Sudan’s age. He died at age 45, not 46.