Three northern white rhinos in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy are under 24-hour protection by armed guards. These three rhinos are the key to their own subspecies’ existence.
Sudan, the male of the three, is the most important northern white rhino alive. He is the entire world’s last known male northern white rhino, and the fate of his subspecies’ survival relies on his ability to mate with the two female rhinos at the conservancy.
Fatu and Najin are Sudan’s female companions at the Kenyan conservancy. Experts are hoping Sudan will be able to conceive with the two female northern white rhinos in a hope that the subspecies does not go extinct.
Poachers are the rhinos main threat. They are driven by the belief in Asia that a rhino’s horn provides a cure for various ailments. Recent claims have been made that their horns are becoming more profitable than drugs.
They are working hard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to ensure poachers do not harm these critically endangered animals. Other than 24-hour security, the conservancy has tagged the rhinos with radio transmitters and they have also begun dispatching incognito rangers throughout neighboring communities to try and sniff out any poaching threat.
Time is running out for Sudan and his subspecies. Sudan is 42 and may not live much longer. The deputy veterinarian at the conservancy, George Paul, believes that although all three rhinos are physiologically healthy, age could play a huge factor in getting them to conceive.
“Sudan is currently old and may not be able to naturally mount and mate with a female,” said Paul.
On top of this, Sudan has a low sperm count which complicates both natural and scientific efforts to get the male to reproduce.
Because of this, experts around the world are resorting to science in a race to save the subspecies’ existence.
At the conservancy a committee is looking into a number of possible reproduction techniques. One of the techniques being looked into is vitro fertilization.
“In other countries, success has been achieved with embryo transfer in a different rhino species, thus that, as a technique, can be presupposed to be the most promising,” said Paul.
Paul believes that we may lose this subspecies in the next decade or so, but he is hopeful of bringing them back in the future using artificial methods of reproduction.
There are no northern white rhinos remaining in the wild. Sudan, Fatu and Najin are the last of their kind.