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Earth’s last male northern white rhino has died

Scientists are scrambling to save the northern white rhino species after the last known male of the subspecies died on Monday. Sudan, the 45-year old rhino, was located in Kenya with the only two remaining northern white rhino females named Najin and Fatu.

In the 1960s, there were at least 2,000 northern white rhinos in areas such as Chad, Sudan, and Africa. Years of conflict and poaching drove this number down to only around 15 by the mid-1980s.

There was hope that mating would be successful among the last three northern white rhinos, who were protected from poachers by armed guards 24 hours a day at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

George Paul, the deputy veterinarian at the conservancy, spoke to CNN about the issue last year.

“There has been recorded mating between different pairs over the last few years, but not conceptions,” said Paul. “Based on a recent health examination conducted, both animals have a regular estrus cycle, but no conception has been recorded.”

Paul explained to CNN that Sudan may have been unable to naturally mate with a female in his older age.

When the rhinos were moved to the conservancy in 2009, there was also one other northern white male named Suni, who passed away in 2014.

At the time of Suni’s death, experts examined the remaining three rhinos and discovered that Sudan had a low sperm count and that both of the females had complications which would prevent them from reproducing naturally.

A press release which followed the examinations stated: “Artificial techniques of reproduction could provide the last chance of survival for the world’s most endangered mammal – the northern white rhino.”

Now, four years later, experts are still hoping that artificial reproduction may enable them to save the subspecies.

Dr. Steve Ngulu, the veterinarian who was in charge of Sudan, told NPR that scientists have sperm that was collected from Sudan and other northern male white rhinos.

According to Dr. Ngulu, the major challenge is to find an alternative to artificial insemination, since the female rhinos are unable to carry a baby to term.

He explained to NPR: “The only other option that we have to have a pure northern white rhino baby is to retrieve or to do something we call ovum pick-up, collect eggs from the females.”

The eggs would then be implanted into a healthy southern white rhino. There is also a chance of mating one of the two remaining females with a southern white male, if necessary, to salvage what is left of the northern white rhino species.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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