The last of his kind

What have we learnt from the death of Sudan?

Beth Alexander


A Sad Day

As we mourn the death of Sudan the last male white rhino in existence, we should be asking ourselves, how did we allow this to happen? How did we allow our own existence to overpower the natural world and force a species into extinction within our lifetime? We should also be asking ourselves, what can we learn from this? How can we conserve our wildlife and natural environment for future generations to enjoy?

Sudan was 45 years old, the equivalent of 90 in human years and was the world’s last surviving male northern white rhino where he lived at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Due to poor health and age related complications he was put to sleep by veterinarians at the conservancy. His death leaves behind only two females, his daughter and granddaughter, the last remaining rhinos of his species. The chances of reproduction and repopulation are extremely limited and would be ground breaking in science were to be successful.

The white rhino has been led to extinction through several impacts such as changing climates and environments, but it is human impact that has caused the greatest devastation. The poaching crisis in the 1970s and 1980s wiped out the northern white rhino populations in Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan and Chad. It was fuelled by demand for rhino horns used for traditional medicines in Asia and for ceremonial dagger handles in Yemen. They have also been known to be poached by militant groups who sell the horns on the black market to raise money for weaponry. It is our population that swelled and encroached upon their natural environment, reducing their habitat as our greed and selfishness grew. We should now be looking at ourselves, focusing on a solution to conserve these animals and protect their natural habitat.

Where Do We Go From Here?

One of the only solutions left to preserve this species is IVF. Rhino IVF is a radically new procedure and is extremely costly, around £7.1 million. The plan is to use stored sperm from male white rhinos and eggs from younger females, and implant the embryo in a surrogate southern white rhino. This procedure gives conservationists hope that the species will not die out forever.

As devastating as Sudan’s death is, it occurrence has led the world to think more about conservation, and what else we can do to stop something like this happening again.

Sudan 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. One day, his demise will hopefully be seen as a seminal moment for conservationists worldwide. Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta's CEO

There is always a lesson to be learnt and progression to be made in conservation. We have learnt that species extinction of large well know mammals is occurring right now and largely from our own doing. With today’s modern society and the world’s media connectivity, conservational issues are being spoken about more widely and are moving to the forefront of society. 

An issue once thought of by scientists and green goers is now a topic of public conversation with differing nations and cultures aware of the impact they are having on the natural environment. As people’s awareness and understanding grows, so too do our conservation actions, with more people vocalising and expressing their views and opinions. Through media coverage comes a sense of connection with these animals and habitats and therefore a need to protect and conserve them for the future. So if Sudan’s death has taught us anything it is that conservation does work and future species can be protected from extinction.

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