In two month’s time, it will be a year since the world lost Sudan, the last male northern white rhino on the planet. He came to Ol Pejeta back in 2009, along with Suni, another male, and his daughter and granddaughter Najin and Fatu from the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. Hopes were raised for the fate of the species when, in 2012, Suni and Najin mated, but nothing came of it. Then, two years later, Suni died of natural causes. Fertility tests on the females revealed that neither was able to breed, and Sudan’s sperm count was confirmed as being dangerously low. During 2017, Sudan developed age-related wounds, to which he succumbed on March 19th, 2018.
This was a dark day for the species, which was then rendered functionally extinct. Scientists and conservationists did not give up however, and thanks to their commitment and boundless optimism, there is hope on the horizon. Individuals have been working together from all over the world, and in July 2018, after perfecting the ovum pick-up (OPU) and embryo production procedures, the Dvůr Králové Zoo, the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and Avantea in Cremona announced they had created a viable embryo made with sperm from a northern white rhino and an egg from a southern white rhino. They are still in the process of perfecting the transfer to surrogates, and are confident they will soon be successful.
Next, they need to harvest eggs from Fatu and Najin. “This requires a vast amount of paperwork, and we are currently obtaining the relevant permits for the procedure and transfer of the eggs. We are hopeful this procedure will happen in the early months of 2019, but no date has been set yet,” says Jan Stejskal, Director of International Projects at Dvůr Králové Zoo.
This will be an extraordinary development in the story of the northern white rhino, and we look forward to seeing what happens next, keeping you updated every step of the way.
NORTHERN WHITE RHINO TIMELINES
1973 – Sudan is born
1975 – Five northern whites captured and taken to Dvůr Králové Zoo in then Czechoslovakia
1980 – Suni born in captivity in Dvůr Králové Zoo
2009 – Four northern whites (Sudan, Suni, Fatu and Najin) moved to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya to try and promote breeding.
2012 – Suni and Najin mated, but did not result in pregnancy
2014 – October – Suni, second last norther white rhino male, dies of natural causes.
2014 – December - Vets confirm that neither female is able to breed, and Sudan’s sperm count is low
2015 – July – Dvůr Králové Zoo loses Nabire, the last northern white rhino in Europe
2015 - November – San Diego Zoo loses Nola, leaving only three northern white rhinos in the world, on Ol Pejeta.
2017 – April – Sudan is featured on a Tinder campaign to raise money for rhino IVF and rehabilitation
2017 – Sudan develops age-related wounds
2018 – March – Sudan dies