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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sudan in Kenya !! ~ the last hope for Northern white rhino species

Angalifu was 44 when he died of old age  recently,  at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Calif.   It made news, for he was a northern white rhinoceros, a species on the brink of extinction. Following his death, there are just five northern white rhinos left worldwide, all in captivity.  Away in Kenya, rangers are risking their lives to keep a 43 year old rhino safe ...... why 24 hours armed guards for a rhino devoid of even horns ~and how Sudan is the last hope !!

The northern white rhinoceros  (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), is one of the two subspecies of the white rhinoceros. Formerly found in several countries in East and Central Africa south of the Sahara, it is considered critically endangered or Extinct in the Wild. This subspecies is a grazer in grasslands and savanna woodlands.   After 2000, six northern white rhinoceros had lived in the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic but four of them (which were also the only reproductive animals of this subspecies) were transported to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, Africa, in 2009, where scientists hoped they would successfully breed and save this subspecies from extinction. 

This  is what extinction looks like. No meteor from outer space, no unstoppable pandemic, no heroic, ultimately futile, last stand. Instead, poor sperm, weak knees and ovarian cysts mark the end of a lifeline cut short by human greed, ignorance and indifference.  With less than a handful left on earth, the animal’s end is inevitable. Scientists and conservationists hope that advancements in genetics and in vitro fertilisation might allow for its test tube resurrection in the future, but before that the northern whites will die, one by one, over the next few years.

The last living male, named Sudan, lives on a reserve of savannah and woodlands in central Kenya, with two of the remaining females. The other two females live alone in zoos in the Czech Republic and the US. Two males — Angalifu and Suni — died last year.  At 43, Sudan is elderly by rhino standards and vets say his sperm is of low quality.  The Ol Pejeta, Kenya, rhinos were shipped from Dvur Kralove in 2009 in the hope that the natural environment would encourage breeding. That hope has faded.

The  demise of this species, is an indictment of what the human race is doing to planet earth and it’s not just happening to rhinos.  Scientists call the mass wiping out of species by humans the "sixth great extinction" — the fifth being the one that killed off the dinosaurs 65-million years ago. The northern white rhino’s extinction is unusual only because it is such a large, recognisable animal.   Modern rhinos have plodded the earth for 26-million years. As recently as the mid-19th century there were more than a million in Africa. The last northern whites disappeared from the wild a decade ago and will soon follow the western black rhino, declared extinct in 2011.

Against all the evidence, park ranger Mohammed Doyo — who looks after Sudan, Najin and Fatu — clings to the forlorn hope that they will reproduce naturally.   To deter poachers, the northern whites are escorted by armed wardens at night and their horns are trimmed back to uneven stumps. The horns are worth more than $65,000/kg on the Asian black market, and are sought after by consumers who are falsely convinced that the ground-up keratin — the substance that human fingernails and toenails are made of — contains powerful medicinal properties.

The world's last surviving male northern white rhino, ‘Sudan’ - stripped of his horn for his own safety - is now under 24-hour armed guard in a desperate final bid to save the species.  Sudan is guarded day and night by a group of rangers who risk their lives on a daily basis as they try to keep the rhino from poachers lured by the rising price of ivory. But even without his horn, keepers in the Kenyan reserve of Ol Pojeta fear his safety.  The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a 90,000-acre not-for-profit wildlife conservancy in Central Kenya's Laikipia County. It is situated on the equator west of Nanyuki, between the foothills of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya.

The 43-year-old rhino - who could live until his 50s - is the last chance for any future northern white rhino calves. Sudan was moved, along with two female rhinos, from a zoo in the Czech Republic in December 2009. The reserve, which specialises in the conservation of rhinos, was chosen because of its successful breeding programme with black rhinos.

Sheer human greed ~and rhinos are not the only of its kind to be driven to such desperation !!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

15th Apr 2015.

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