What would Sudan the white rhino have in common with the president of a country, a Hollywood celebrity or even a notorious prisoner?
Answer – personal security guards!
Sudan moves around with 4 armed guards and is one of the most watched rhinos ever. That’s because he is the only male northern white rhino in existence and his species depends on him to survive. Sudan currently lives in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He has been fitted with radio transmitters to track his every move.
But why is Sudan in such a position today? Let’s find out.
The Northern White Rhinos
The huge animals which weigh in between 1.7 -2.4 tons are actually grey in color as opposed to their cousins, the more common black rhinos. Their name oddly is a misinterpretation of the Dutch ‘wijde’ meaning wide. These animals have much wider mouths for feeding on grass as opposed to the narrower mouths of their darker cousins which helps them access leaves and plants. Two subspecies are the Northern and Southern varieties, both of which historically belong to Africa.
Once found across the entire African continent north of the Zambezi river, the Northern White rhinos are on the verge of extinction today. There are no reported sightings in the wild, so we know of just 5 from this species. One each at San Diego Zoo (in the US) and Dvur Kralove Zoo (in the Czech Republic), and 3 at Ol Pejeta.
Sudan, another male Suni, and two females Fatu and Najin were transported to Kenya from Dvur Kralove in 2009. Their keepers hoped that the rhinos would breed successfully in more natural surroundings. The animals settled down well, but Suni, unfortunately, died last December. And Sudan has clocked 42 years which is really very old by rhino standards (their usual lifespan is just 40). He is simply too old to mate with any female. In fact, in addition to his guards, his rhino horn has been surgically removed, to make him less ‘attractive’ to poachers.
Tests have revealed that Sudan could still be artificially bred with a female. Fatu despite being just 15 years old has medical issues and cannot breed. Najin is 25 years old and is relatively much better placed to be artificially bred.
If even that fails, there is also the possibility that Sudan could be interbred with one of the southern varieties, some of which also live in Ol Pejeta. The southern species are much larger in population worldwide and are also found in the wild.
This option would produce a hybrid since the two are genetically distinct. Research is going on to explore these options, but considering Sudan’s advanced age, the clock is ticking. Meanwhile, Sudan is being pampered and the rangers guarding him have been fitted with sophisticated equipment to help them do their job even better.
Critical Thinking: Is there a lesson for us all here? What are some ideas on how we can conserve animals that are being hunted for their parts such as horns and tusks?
Courtesy CNN, olpejetaconservancy.org