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Sudan: World’s last ‘White Rhino’ dies aged 45

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Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhinoceros, died in Kenya on Monday, 19th of March, leaving his species one step closer to complete extinction, even as a group of scientists undertake an unprecedented effort to try to keep this animal from vanishing entirely. Sudan had been the last living male northern white Rhino in the world, with only two females remaining in the same sanctuary, Najin and Fatu.  

Sudan was 45 years old and his health had deteriorated in recent weeks after a severe leg infection. In a statement, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy said his condition worsened and he was no longer able to stand up, so his veterinary team decided to euthanize him.

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Sudan’s death has pushed his species to the ‘almost extinct’ category. The last animal species to go extinct was the Western black African Rhino, that went extinct in 2006,  after conservers failed to find any existing wildlife dwelling or individual in Cameroon, the last known popular habitat for the majestic creatures.

Sudan was captured in Sudan in 1975, when he was just two years old and was taken to Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. But as that zoo fell into financial troubles and rhinos failed to breed, Sudan was relocated in 2009 to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, in Laikipia County, Kenya, along with two northern white rhino females named Najin and Fatu.

But then, as far as their propagation is concerned, we are happy that at least we collected some sperm from him and the other males.

-Dr. Steve Ngulu

The projection behind that was that in a place closely resembling their homeland, they would thrive and possibly reproduce. Northern white rhinos used to be found in an area spanning Uganda, Chad, southwestern Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some 2,000 existed in 1960, according to the World Wildlife Fund, but war and the poaching that funded the fighting drove them to extinction in the wild.

Dr. Steve Ngulu, the veterinarian who was in charge of Sudan, said the animal’s death is sad and shocking and a testament to human failure, while speaking to an international publication.

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“But then, as far as their propagation is concerned, we are happy that at least we collected some sperm from him and the other males,” Ngulu said.

One of the huge hurdles facing scientists is that the two remaining female northern white rhinos cannot gestate the next generation, one is sterile and the other is not physically capable of carrying a calf full term.

“So, natural reproduction cannot take place, artificial insemination is not possible, so the only other option that we have to have a pure northern white rhino baby is to retrieve or to do something we call ovum pick-up, collect eggs from the females,” Ngulu said.

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Those fertilized eggs would then be implanted in a southern white rhino, which would carry the calf to term. Taking eggs from a rhino, though, has never been done. If and when scientists take that risk, there’s a chance that the females could perish, bringing the species to final extinction.


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