Sudan was captured in his namesake country when he was two years old. The Northern White Rhino, who lived another 43 years at the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, died earlier today, the last male of his species, with no heir to continue the line.

Is the Northern White extinct, then? Not yet. Two females still exist, and sperm samples have been collected from Sudan and other males before their demise. Unfortunately, one of the females is sterile and the other cannot gestate a calf to full term.

What are the chances of avoiding extinction?

The veterinarian in charge of Sudan, Dr. Steve Ngulu, says that artificial insemination is not possible and natural reproduction is certainly out of the question after Sudan’s death. The only option is to take ova from the living females, fertilize them with the available sperm, and use a Southern White Rhino female as a surrogate mother for the gestation period.

Will it work? Nobody knows, because it’s never been done before.

As such, the fate of the Northern White Rhino hangs by a thread. And the death of Sudan, the sub-species’ only chance of natural reproduction, makes it even more urgent that something be done sooner rather than later.

Dr. Ngulu’s words are fitting at this moment: “the animal’s death is sad and shocking — and a testament to human failure.”

Too true.

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