The world’s last male northern white rhino has died, the Kenyan conservancy taking care of him says, leaving only two female members of the subspecies alive in the world.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya said in a statement the 45-year-old rhino was euthanased on Monday (local time) after his condition “worsened significantly” and he was no longer able to stand.
His muscles and bones had degenerated and his skin had extensive wounds.
The rhino had been part of an ambitious effort to save the subspecies from extinction with the help of the two surviving females — Sudan’s daughter Najin and Najin’s daughter Fatu.
“He was a great ambassador for his species and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity,” the conservancy’s CEO, Richard Vigne, said.
A copy of his genetic material was taken on the day of his death in the hope that future technology could potentially revive the species seemingly doomed for extinction.
“His genetic material was collected yesterday and provides a hope for future attempts at reproduction of northern white rhinos through advanced cellular technologies,” the conservancy said on Twitter.
“The only hope for the preservation of this subspecies now lies in developing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques using eggs from the two remaining females, stored northern white rhino semen from males and surrogate southern white rhino females.”
Sudan’s death “is a cruel symbol of human disregard for nature and it saddened everyone who knew him. But we should not give up,” said Jan Stejskal, director of international projects at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic.
“It may sound unbelievable, but thanks to the newly developed techniques even Sudan could still have an offspring.”
While there are thousands of southern white rhinos still roaming the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, decades of rampant poaching drastically cut northern white rhino numbers.
Sudan was something of a celebrity, attracting thousands of visitors.
In 2017, conservationists put Sudan on the dating app Tinder as “The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World”, hoping to raise enough money for a $US9 million ($11.7 million) fertility treatment as all attempts at getting him to mate naturally had failed.
He had been born in Sudan, taken to a Czech zoo and then transferred to Kenya in 2009. Rangers caring for Sudan described him as gentle.
Northern white rhinos once roamed parts of Chad, Sudan, Uganda, Congo and Central African Republic, and were particularly vulnerable because of the armed conflicts that have swept the region over decades.
Other rhinos, the southern white rhino and another species, the black rhino, are under heavy pressure from poachers who kill them for their horns to supply illegal markets in parts of Asia.
Roughly 20,000 southern white rhinos remain in Africa. Their numbers dipped below 100 about a century ago, but an intense effort initiated by South African conservationist Ian Player in the mid-20th century turned things around.