Wednesday 15 August 2018

Fight to save species continues even as last male northern white rhino dies

Wardens assist ‘Sudan’ as the northern white rhino grazes at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia national park, Kenya. Photo: Reuters
Wardens assist ‘Sudan’ as the northern white rhino grazes at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia national park, Kenya. Photo: Reuters

Tom Odula

The death of the world's last male northern white rhino, Sudan, doesn't end efforts to save a subspecies of one of the world's most recognisable animals.

The focus now turns to his stored semen and that of four other dead rhinos, as well as the perfection of in-vitro fertilisation techniques and the critical need to keep the remaining two females alive.

Whatever happens, conservationists hope the lessons learned in the endeavour can be applied to other critically endangered species.

The 45-year-old Sudan, who won widespread affection last year with his listing as 'The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World' on the Tinder dating app in a fundraising effort, was euthanised on Monday after "age-related complications," researchers said yesterday.

In his death, the world saw the shadow of extinction approach before their eyes. "Utter tragedy today," British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted. "We can't just sit back and watch more species disappear."

The rhino "stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength", said the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, where Sudan lived. It said his condition had "worsened significantly," to the point where he was no longer able to stand. His muscles and bones had degenerated and his skin had extensive wounds.

Euthanasia was "the best option, given the quality of his life had deteriorated to a point where it was unfair to him", chief conservation officer Samuel Mutisya said.

Sudan had been central to the ambitious effort to save the subspecies from extinction after decades of decimation by poachers, along with the two surviving females. One is his 27-year-old offspring, Najin, and the other is her 17-year-old offspring, Fatu.

It is just a matter of months before eggs are extracted from the two females, said Jan Stejskal, director of international projects at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, where Sudan lived before coming to Kenya.

While chances of success with in-vitro fertilisation are slim "we believe that giving up is not an option," the veterinarian at the Kenya conservancy, Dr Stephen Ngulu, said.

Irish Independent

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