The death of the last male northern white rhino, Sudan, in March 2018 brings up many questions about the future of this species, as well as what led up to this tragedy. The white rhino is a subspecies of the rhino, and there are now only 2 females left in existence. Even though Sudan had 24-hour protection from poachers, he was elderly and unable to mate, drawing out the sad, imminent fate of this species. What exactly does it mean for the 2 females left, and is there any way to save this species with fertility technology before it’s too late? Let’s take a closer look at what got the white rhino to this tough spot, and what can be done to stop it from completely wiping out the species.
Poached Into Extinction
Rhinos, white rhinos included, are sought out and killed for their horns. The rhino horn is used in some Chinese medicines, as well as crafts. The horns of rhinos are some of the most lucrative items in the black market world of animal parts. Due to this poaching, there are just over 29,000 rhinos left on the earth. This is a drastic reduction from the hundreds of thousands recorded before the 19th century.
The problems of poaching are similar to those of drug wars, and just as difficult to tackle. The death of Sudan has once again brought the black market of poaching into light and drawn more eyes to the continuing efforts needed in wildlife conservation. Rhinos are not the only amazing creatures on this earth that are currently being poached into extinction.
Using Alternative Methods to Conceive
At first glance, it seems that not much can be done for the white rhino species, since the last male has passed away. But there has been some research done and steps taken in order to attempt to keep this species from total extinction. Scientists have saved some of Sudan’s genetic material in the hopes of one day being able to artificially inseminate one of the two remaining female white rhinos. If that doesn’t work, there is the option of mating one of the females with a southern white rhino (which are not endangered). While that solution would make the species not 100% white rhino, it would create new subspecies, keeping them from completely disappearing.
Scientists are also looking into other options to help keep the white rhino from going extinct, and one of those options is in vitro fertilization. “In vitro” translates to “in the glass,” or in a test tube. Eggs from southern white rhinos have been acquired and are being stored in European zoos, and they will also start saving eggs from the two northern white rhino females. They will then take these eggs and try to fertilize them in vitro. The hope is to isolate a southern white rhino and make sure she is able to take the egg and produce a northern white rhino baby sometime in 2018.
Conservation for the White Rhino
The attempts to try and conserve the species through in vitro techniques are just one way to help conserve the white rhino. The two females left are on thousands of acres of protected land and are well guarded from poachers. Sudan was as well, but his health was failing, and there was no option but to let him pass on. The crunch time to conserve this species, and others going down the same path, is now. Only time will tell how well the options to artificially conceive a white rhino will pan out, but even creating a subspecies of the white rhino is better than having the entire species go extinct. Keeping these animals guarded and protected from poachers is now the main concern, as scientists try to help create a baby white rhino.
Let’s not forget about the many other species that are endangered or nearly extinct. If you want to learn more about wildlife conservation, check out Ranger Mac’s blog here!