Sudan, the last Northern White Rhinoceros, Certatotherium simum cottoni, was euthanized March 19. He was 45 years old, advanced old age for a rhino. He was the last male of his subspecies. The two remaining Northern White Rhinos are his daughter and granddaughter, Najin and Fatu.
Sudan was born in 1973 in Shambe, South Sudan. He was captured two years later and brought to the Dvur Kràlovè Zoo in the Czech Republic. In 2007 he was re-located to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, outside of Nairobi, Kenya. At Ol Pejeta, he had 24/7 bodyguards, to protect him from poachers.
Sudan’s subspecies is a victim of human stupidity and indifference. The poaching crisis of the 1970s and 80s wiped out the northern white rhino populations in Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan and Chad. It was driven by demand for rhinoceros horn for use in traditional medicines – impotence “cures” – in Asia and ceremonial dagger handles in Yemen. The last remaining wild population of northern white rhinos, some 20 to 30 individuals in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were killed during fighting in the region in the 1990s and early 2000s. By 2008, the northern white rhino was considered by most experts to be extinct in the wild.
It may be technically possible to recover the individuals of the species. There is frozen Northern White Rhino sperm of different lineages. If eggs can be recovered from Najin or Fatu, fertilized with the frozen sperm, and then implanted in a Southern White Rhino cousin, it could be possible. But the expense will be formidable, the odds long and the outcome uncertain. Arguably, we owe the attempt, but WC is uncertain that the will is there. That’s not the only obstacle; an in vitro fertilization program might produce viable offspring, but it’s likely the available northern white rhino gene pool is so limited there could be problems caused by inbreeding. Creating a viable population of Northern White Rhinos, a breeding herd, may be impossible, even assuming IVF was successful.
It’s hard not to be outraged. It’s hard not to despair. Chinese superstition – that rhino horn cures impotence – and knife handles? Seriously?
Maybe we can learn something from the loss of an emblematic species. WC wouldn’t bet on it. Go tell it to the Passenger Pigeon.
R.I.P. Sudan. For what it may be worth, WC apologizes to your kind for human greed and stupidity.