Is The Northern White Rhino About To Become Extinct: Can The Species Be Saved?

The recent news of the death of the last northern white rhino has caused a global outcry. Known as Sudan, the only remaining male rhino of its kind died on March 19, 2018.

Sudan was 45 years old and lived at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Being the last of his kind, this rhino was protected by armed guards. He had been suffering from complications related to his advanced age (45 for a rhinoceros is very old) and things took a turn to the worse in early March when he became ill from an infection on his back right leg.

But this rhino was not the last one of his kind. There are two female northern white rhinos still at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The problem is that there are no males available after Sudan’s death.

Are White Rhinos About to Become Extinct?

Now that the last male northern white rhino is dead, the species is almost guaranteed to become extinct.

Before his death, conservationists made attempts to help him reproduce. They even went as far as to create an online dating profile for Rhino on the popular hook-up app Tinder.

The northern white rhino is also known as the northern square-lipped rhino. Its scientific name is Ceratotherium simum cottoni.

Together with the southern white rhino, the northern white rhino is one of the two sub-species of white rhinoceros. Before their decline, northern white rhinoceros were found in some countries south of the Sahara Desert in East and Central Africa. While they lived there, they were grazers in the savanna woodlands and grasslands of the region.

One of the people who best documented the decile of the northern white rhino decline is Czech photographer for the National Geographic, Ami Vitale.

Vitale accompanied last male northern white rhino, Sudan, when he was transported from, Dvur Kralove Zoo, a zoo in the Czech Republic, to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy reserve in Kenya back in 2009.

The main reason behind the transfer of Sudan from Europe to Africa was the belief that having more space and living in a more favorable climate, the northern white rhino would be stimulated into breeding. This was one of the last-ditch attempts at saving the species from extinction. But we now know that, sadly, this attempt was in vain.

Sudan’s problem is that he was already way past his reproductive age. With two females only available, scientists tried to breed their offspring in a lab.

Attempting IVF Impregnation

Can science stop the extinction of this species of rhinos?

The answer to that question is, sadly, that it is highly unlikely. Having said that, even before the death of Sudan, lad reproduction was the only possible solution due to the rhino’s old age.

Scientists have harvested sex cells from the northern white rhinos in the reserve with the hope that they might be able to use IVF techniques in order to impregnate surrogates. The problem is that technology still needs to catch up in order to pull off this endeavor.

Also, the costs for this treatment are extremely high being estimated at over $9 million.

In hindsight, there is a lesson in all this. While conservation costs may be high, costs related to recovery are a lot higher and may never yield the desired outcome.

The two female northern white rhinos that survive are Najin, who was already born in captivity back in 1989. She was the daughter of the late Sudan and of a now also dead female rhino named Nasima. The other female northern white rhino that survives is Fatu, who was also born in captivity, this time in 2000. She is the daughter of Najin and the now dead make rhino Saut.

Like Sudan, the two female northern white rhinos are the property of the Dvur Kralove Zoo, although they now live in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Rhinos Are In Danger

But it is not just northern white rhinos that are in danger in Africa. All species of rhinos are to some extent in risk of extinction.

There are only three subspecies of rhinoceros left on Earth. As recently as 2014, there were seven and by 2015 the number had been reduced to four. All the subspecies of rhinoceros are kept in zoos.

The decline of the northern white rhino has been particularly fast.

The main threat is that poachers continue to attack rhinoceros. And this is why in its last days, Sudan, was guarded by armed rangers day and night. Poachers are not discouraged by the fact that rhinoceros now have conservation status.

The rhino is now more or less extinct, and it’s not because of global warming or shrinking habitats. It’s because of Beyonce’s handbangs. – Morrissey

Why are rhinos so attractive to poachers? Although it can be extremely hard to believe why anybody would want to hunt down rhinoceros, the fact is that their skin and horns still makes hunting them a lucrative business for people without scruples. Elephants are also widely targeted for the same reasons.

One of the most important subspecies of rhinoceros that has already become extinct is the western black rhino, which disappeared back in 2013. After the surefire extinction of the northern white rhino (once Najin and Nasima) die, the next subspecies that is likely to become extinct would be the eastern black rhino, whose current numbers are around a thousand.

The main focus for conservationists is now on the southern white rhino. It is estimated that there are about 20,000 southern white rhinos still alive on the planet.

About The Author

Juan Ramos

Juan has been writing about science for over a decade and regularly keeps up with technological and scientific advancements. Juan is known for taking complex research and technology and presenting it in an easily digestible form for education. Juan holds a Master's degree from The Open University in the UK.

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