The death of Sudan, the world’s last remaining male northern white rhinoceros, wasn’t exactly a surprise given his health and age. But when he passed away last night, the news was met with sadness and dismay that echoed worldwide.
Despite fervent efforts from scientists and conservationists to get Sudan to mate and help produce offspring — even creating a Tinder profile for the Rhino — his death most likely marks the end of a species that has lasted millions of years but could not survive mankind.
National Geographic Photography Ami Vitale was with Sudan when the rhino was transferred from a zoo in the Czech Republic to the Kenya reserve in 2009. It was thought that the African climate and having more room to roam would stimulate the rhinos to breed. (Meet the heroes who protect the last northern white rhinos.)
Because he is past reproductive age and the two females are unable to produce offspring naturally, scientists were attempting to breed a new rhino in a lab.
Sex cells were harvested from the living northern white rhinos, and scientists are hoping to use IVF to impregnate southern white rhino surrogates. The technology to pull this off is still being perfected.
“There’s no guarantee that [IVF] will work,” says Philip Muruthi, vice president of species protection at the African Wildlife Foundation. And he adds that it’s extremely expensive and could cost more than $9 million.
“This is a bitter lesson of species conservation,” says Muruthi. He notes that, while protection is costly, “the costs of recovery are even higher.”
Unfortunately, the demise of the white rhino is one that hundreds of species face daily with climate change, ecological destruction and hunting threatening their livelihood. We believe that this natural world is for all of us, not just human beings — that is why we fight to educate, energize and change the conversation around environmental protection. We can still save the next white rhinos.
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Image from National Geographic.