Wildlife & Biodiversity

Another one bites the dust

The world's last surviving male Northern White rhino has died after months of ill health

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 20 March 2018

Bollywood actress Nargis Fakhri stands with ‘Sudan’, the world’s last male Northern White rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya on May 22, 2015  Credit: WikimediaSudan, the last surviving male Northern White rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) in the world, has died. His death places the Northern White subspecies of rhinoceros on the brink of extinction.

Sudan, 45, was euthanised on March 19 by his caretakers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya. The rhino was euthanised after his age-related complications worsened. Sudan, who was the equivalent of 90 in human years, was being treated for degenerative changes in his muscles and bones, combined with extensive skin wounds.

“It is with great sadness that Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Dvůr Králové Zoo announce that Sudan, the world’s last male Northern White rhino, age 45, died at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on March 19, 2018,” Ol Pejeta tweeted on Tuesday, March 20.  

Sudan’s death leaves only two Northern White Rhinos alive in the world: his daughter and granddaughter, Najin and Fatu.

Sudan was born in 1972 in what is now South Sudan. At the time, there were around 1,000 Northern White rhinos in the wild—in countries like (united) Sudan, Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of Congo) and the Central African Republic. Conflict and poaching during the next few decades decimated this last remaining population. By 2003, only 20 Northern Whites were left in the wild, in the Congo’s Garamba National Park. The Congolese government blocked plans to take any of them out of the country, and within a few years, all were killed.

Sudan though was taken away from his wild home at the age of 3 in 1975 by representatives from Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. In 2009, Sudan and another male, Suni were brought from the Czech Zoo to Ol Pejeta. Suni died in 2014 from a heart attack. He was the second-last male surviving Northern White.                                                                            

Sudan spent the last years of his life under 24-hour protection from armed guards. His horn had been chopped off to deter poachers, though it had begun to grow back.

And while the battle to save the Northern White subspecies may be seemingly lost, there could still be a glimmer of hope.

Sudan's genetic material was collected on Monday. In a press release, Ol Pejeta said it is attempting “to try and conduct the first-ever procedure to safely remove egg cells from remaining females, fertilise these with semen previously collected from Northern White males, and insert the resulting embryos into female Southern White rhinos acting as surrogates.”

Sudan’s death also puts the spotlight on other rhino subspecies, all of which are battling to survive the onslaught of poaching. Rhino horn, which is nothing but keratin, a protein which forms human hair and nails as well, is valued in traditional Chinese medicine. Other subspecies include the Black Rhinoceros, Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros, Javan Rhinoceros and Sumatran Rhinoceros. There are also the Southern White Rhinos, found in eastern and southern Africa. Around 30,000 rhinos from the five species remain worldwide.

Will Sudan’s death impact the rhino conservation scene in India? In 2016, Down To Earth had noted how the rhino had become the very symbol of "green militarism" in India—some wildlife reserves in India like Kaziranga had turned into “war zones” and local communities and tribals were often caught in the crossfire between wildlife managers and poachers.

On the other hand, Raza Kazmi, Jharkhand-based conservationist and wildlife watcher, highlights another facet of the whole Sudan affair. “The important thing to note here is the ethical aspect of it all. Black Africans are hardly ever seen in positions of eminence in Africa’s conservation scene. Similarly in India, conservation is still by-and-large an elite, urban, upper middle-class bastion. One hardly sees a conservationist hailing from our adivasi or forest-dwelling communities featured in the media, or them being actively consulted in the policy debates in the mainstream conservation world. That, for me, says it all.”

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