The world’s last male northern white rhino has fallen gravely ill, driving the subspecies one step closer towards extinction.
As Stephanie Pappas reports for Live Science, Sudan, as the 45-year-old rhino is known, is suffering from two infections on his right back leg. He lives at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which announced on Twitter late last month that Sudan’s “health has begun deteriorating, and his future is not looking bright.”
The rhino’s troubles began late last year, when Sudan developed an age-related infection on his back leg. He was treated and seemed to be recovering well, but a secondary, deeper infection was recently discovered behind the original one.
“This has been treated, but worryingly, the infection is taking longer to recover, despite the best efforts of his team of vets who are giving him 24-hour care,” Ol Pejeta wrote on Twitter. “We are very concerned about him—he's extremely old for a rhino and we do not want him to suffer unnecessarily.”
Elodie A. Sampere, a spokesperson for the conservancy, tells Faith Karimi of CNN that Sudan is still feeding and walking about, “albeit very little.”
“Euthanasia will be explored if we feel he is suffering too much and won't recover,” Sampere says.
Sudan is one of the world’s last three northern white rhinos, and the only male. Two females—Najin and her daughter Fatu—also live at Ol Pejeta. Recent efforts to breed the rhinos have not been successful; Sudan has a low sperm count, Najin’s knees are too weak to endure breeding attempts and Fatu is infertile. Last year, Sudan was given a Tinder profile as part of a campaign to raise funds to develop reproductive technology for the rhinos.
Northern white rhinos have already been classified as extinct, since none exist in the wild, according to Ann M. Simmons of the Los Angeles Times. And all species of rhino are facing grave threats. While millions of the animals once roamed across Africa and Asia, only 30,000 now survive in the wild, according to Save the Rhino. Poachers, who illegally hunt rhinos for their horns, are the main threat to the animals’ survival. At the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Sudan is constantly flanked by armed guards.
Scientists are exploring various options for reintroducing the northern white rhino subspecies, among them in-vitro fertilization. Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive sciences at San Diego Zoo Global, tells Simmons that other possibilities include using stem cell technology to create a northern white rhino embryo (which could then be implanted in a surrogate), creating a hybrid between northern and southern white rhinos, or even cloning the animal.
But, Durrant notes, scientist “have lot of work to do to develop those technologies.” More urgent is the need to stamp out the demand for rhino horn and bring an end to the poaching of these magnificent creatures.