On 19 March 2018, the world learnt of the passing of Sudan - the last male northern white rhinoceros of his subspecies. While he represents mankind's disregard for nature, he also represents hope.
Protecting the northern white rhinoceros
Sudan was born in the wild but lived his life in captivity. In 2009, Sudan was transferred from his home in Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic to the Ol Pejeta Reserve in Kenya along with three other northern white rhinos.
The re-homing effort was part of a conservation program to breed and resurrect the near-extinct subspecies. Sudan was joined by fellow male Suni, and Sudan's daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu.
Sudan became the last surviving male northern white rhinoceros in 2014 when Suni, the only other male considered able to breed, died suddenly at age 34. The future of the subspecies lay with Sudan alone.
Despite producing three female calves during his lifetime, no successful mating took place with any of the remaining northern white rhinos.
Death of the last male northern white rhino
At 45, Sudan was suffering from age-related complications that deteriorated quickly. At the very end, he was unable to stand due to degenerative ailments affecting his muscles and bones. He was also suffering from a deep infection in his leg.
With the sudden worsening of his condition, the enormously painful decision was made my the staff at the Ol Pejeta Reserve to euthanise the 2.2 tonne animal.
Speaking of Sudan's death, Richard Vigne, CEO of the Ol Pejeta Reserve said: "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 consequences of poaching
The northern white rhino was once found in natural habitats in southern Chad, the Central African Republic, southwestern Sudan, northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and northwestern Uganda.
According to records, approximately 2,360 northern white rhinos existed in the wild in 1960. However, in such areas often marked by heavy armed conflict and extensive poaching, their numbers were dwindled down to just 15 by 1984. It is believed that northern white rhinos became extinct in the wild around this time.
A handful of the remaining mammals, including Sudan, were taken into captivity to preserve the species.
What next for the northern white rhino?
With males no longer in existence and only two females left, attention is now being turned to the possibility of the subspecies' survival through in vitro fertilisation.
It is hoped the similar southern white rhino subspecies will play the role of surrogate to embryos created from harvested northern white rhino sperm, including from Sudan, and eggs from the surviving females.
Rhino IVF is in relatively new and one that presents extreme challenges both financially and medically. Only time will tell if this subspecies can be resurrected and reintroduced back into the wild.
Sudan is survived by his daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu - the last two remaining northern white rhinos in existence.
(iStock image for illustrative purposes only)